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Another decent article

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Haven't read much from Tim Rich about Newcastle recently, but here he is with a piece in today's Telegraph;

 

Souness spell mirrors ill-fated Dalglish regime

By Tim Rich  (Filed: 03/02/2006)

 

Graeme Souness factfile

 

In pics: Premiership action

Your View: Football forum

January transfers in full

 

Graeme Souness must have been shocked by what he saw. They were virtually all his players, they had surrendered abjectly and as they left the pitch after a 3-0 defeat they were jeered by their travelling supporters. It was September 2004, and he was watching the Blackburn team he had just abandoned being destroyed by a Newcastle side under the temporary charge of John Carver.

 

Seventeen months later, Souness watched another group of players he had largely assembled deliver a supine display at Manchester City. Again the score was 3-0; again his players were jeered off. That was how Souness' reign at Newcastle began and that was how it ended. If the symmetry was neat, much of what went on in between was a mess.

 

When Souness succeeded Sir Bobby Robson, he described the squad as the best he had inherited. Robson had bought some young, talented footballers but there were deep problems in terms of fitness levels - what might euphemistically be termed "lifestyle issues" - and boardroom interference. The chalice Souness picked up was beautifully crafted, but it still held poison.

 

Although he had mellowed from the confrontational young manager who had attempted to revolutionise Rangers and Liverpool, Souness dealt with dissent ruthlessly. Craig Bellamy and Laurent Robert were deeply unpopular with a section of the Newcastle dressing room, centred around Alan Shearer. However, in attempting to remove them Souness was dragged into messy and public divorces.

 

Having been suspended from the side who lost a Uefa Cup quarter-final to Sporting Lisbon for arguing in print that Newcastle were a ghost of the side they had been under Robson, Robert was brought back because of injuries to face Manchester United in the FA Cup semi-finals. In Cardiff, he and Nicky Butt delivered two of the worst performances seen in a black-and-white shirt in recent times.

 

At Highbury, Bellamy, hearing Souness had accused him of feigning injury, denounced his manager as a liar. A little over two months later, Kieron Dyer and Lee Bowyer exchanged punches on the pitch at St James' Park. Part of Souness' brief had been to restore order to the dressing room. If discipline undermined his first season, repeated injuries laid waste to the second, as did the fact that the players Souness purged tended to be fast and - Michael Owen apart -those he brought in were solid rather than quick. The Newcastle side sliced apart by Manchester City looked a ponderous collection of individuals. They had ceased to function as a team.

 

Souness was always treated coolly on Tyneside. Unlike Kevin Keegan, he was not a returning hero, he lacked Kenny Dalglish's track record as a manager and Ruud Gullit's glamour. Unlike Robson, he was not a Geordie. Like all of them, he discovered that the Evening Chronicle in Newcastle was not an organisation to cross. Souness also suffered because Newcastle made no secret of the fact that he was not their first choice, and Blackburn did not convincingly deny they had been preparing to sack him when Newcastle chairman Freddy Shepherd came calling.

 

Souness had claimed expectations on Tyneside were pitched suffocatingly high. And yet, after 50 barren years domestically, all their fans craved was a League title or an FA Cup. After their defeat against Wigan in the Carling Cup, the mood against Souness in the Tyneside media, the boardroom and the stands soured significantly.

 

Souness' regime at St James' Park echoed that of Dalglish, his close friend from the great days of Anfield. Both were brought in to instil discipline into a side who had grown too flamboyant. Both had squads wrecked by injury - Shearer's torn ankle ligaments ruined Dalglish's only full season at Newcastle, just as Owen's broken metatarsal doomed Souness. Both were sacked at bad times - Dalglish after two games of the season, Souness the moment the January transfer window slammed shut, giving his successor no room for manoeuvre. Neither won over the Gallowgate End.

 

There another similarity that might bring a flicker of light in this bleak midwinter. Some of the players Dalglish bought - Nolberto Solano, Shay Given, Gary Speed, Dietmar Hamann and Jon Dahl Tomasson - were impressive footballers, the last two for other clubs. In Owen, Scott Parker and maybe Emre, Souness has left a parting gift his successor might cherish.

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Thought this was a good piece in the Teleg today too. It won't be to your taste though Leazes as: 1. It's by that ponce Henry Winter; and 2. It's disrespectful to Lard Lad

 

Shepherd shows his lack of class and credibility

By Henry Winter  (Filed: 03/02/2006)

 

Newcastle United need a new chairman and a new centre-half as much as a new manager. The decision-making culture is all wrong at St James', from boardroom to back line. Unless the chairman, Freddy Shepherd, gets his next call right, and appoints a long-term manager who will bring stability and style, he too should head for the Toon exit that Graeme Souness passed through yesterday.

 

In a boardroom world graced by such respected Premiership chairmen as David Moores, Steve Gibson and John Wardle, Shepherd lacks class and credibility. Newcastle are as deeply in debt to their banks as to their magnificent and long-suffering supporters. The direction from on high is desperately lacking in vision.

 

Shepherd, who infamously once derided his brilliant fans, has made a string of bad choices, from the ill-timed jettisoning of Sir Bobby Robson to the surprise appointment of Souness, who was hardly shining at Blackburn Rovers. Even sacking a manager yesterday, within 48 hours of the winter-transfer window snapping shut, seems strange timing. Any new appointment cannot tweak the squad.

 

Why not dismiss Souness in December? But then why force out two past managers, Sir Bobby Robson and Kenny Dalglish, as seasons were starting? In a black-and-white boardroom, the little grey cells are not being used.

 

Souness certainly made mistakes, such as the recruitment of Jean-Alain Boumsong and another foreigner ill-suited to the Premiership, Albert Luque. But the Scot maintained his dignity in the face of adversity, not least the injuries that deprived him of Michael Owen, his best striker, and Steven Taylor, the promising local centre-half.

 

If certain Newcastle players had displayed the commitment that characterised Souness as a player, the team would not now be flirting with relegation. A midfielder capable of acts of destruction and beauty with Liverpool, Souness has given far more to English football than he has taken out of it, a claim Shepherd certainly cannot make.

 

Shepherd must realise he is not a de facto director of football, but the senior executive charged with providing a wonderful but crazy club with mature, intelligent leadership. The heart yearns for the civilised days of Sir John Hall. Newcastle, for all their tendency to trade in farce, remain a special institution, primarily because of the passion of their immense following. No other city in the country marches to one tune as noisily as Newcastle does.

 

The Toon Army deserve better than being led by the incumbent general, although Shepherd did make one sensible decision yesterday by placing the team under the temporary sway of Glenn Roeder and Alan Shearer. Roeder, the academy director, is more a top-class coach than outstanding manager, but his strengths could dovetail well with Shearer, a far tougher individual who exudes management potential provided he ignores the siren call of admiring television producers.

 

Shearer is so highly regarded in football that the FA were even talking privately about him being a long-term England managerial option - and that was before they appointed Sven-Goran Eriksson back in 2001. Far savvier than his occasionally bland public persona would suggest, Shearer could make a fine manager, although one wonders how patient he would be with certain overpaid under-achievers in Newcastle's squad.

 

Unless Shepherd can somehow lure the inspirational Martin O'Neill to the North-East, or prise Sam Allardyce from Bolton, the Newcastle chairman must stick with the Roeder-Shearer double act. Yet even this has not been properly thought through. Neither individual possesses the Uefa Pro-licence required for Premiership duty; they have three months' grace before having to stand down. One wishes the likeable Shearer well in his new adventure - and good luck with the chairman.

 

www.telegraph.co.uk/winter

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