The Balding Sword Of Damocles

Wednesday, January 9, 2008 0:10 | Filed in Newcastle United

aka “Taxi for Allardyce?”

I’ve watched Newcastle play a lot of crap football over the years. In fact, mostly, I’ve watched Newcastle play crap football — badly — over the years, with a couple of exceptions during the Keegan and Robson eras, so why should I expect any better?

Firstly, the fact that the team hasn’t historically been successful doesn’t mean that they don’t have an equal “right” to be as successful as any other club. Manchester United don’t have a divine right to win the league (rather annoyingly, they keep winning it by having the best team). In terms of fan base, in terms of potential for revenue, Newcastle are one of the biggest in the country. It would be inappropriate therefore to aim for anything lower than a degree of success proportionate to that.

But I’m not expecting it to happen overnight: not unless Magpie Mike decides he’d rather have a successful club than a personal fortune and spends a hundred million or so on players. But it is reasonable to expect the team to be improving, with a goal of European qualification within a couple of years, regular top-four spots (not every season, no “divine right”, remember?) within five years and then obviously declaring the independent People’s Democratic Republic of Geordieland and going on to win the World Cup by 2018.

Incidentally, why is it that whenever the word “democratic” is part of a country’s name, it comes across as somewhat ironic? It’s like they’re trying to convince someone…

And up until Christmas, I’d been supportive of Allardyce. Sure, I’d objected to the style of play (hoof it up and hope something useful happens) — particularly when we’ve actually got players with skill capable of playing something called… oh hang on, I remember now… attractive football. Sure, I’d objected to some of the results. I’d enjoyed the good start to the season too, although let’s not forget we’ve struggled to score goals in quite a few games this season.

I’d also wondered why Allardyce was so convinced he knew what everyone’s best position was, despite them having forged careers before (and no doubt after) him in other positions much more effectively than they would do where Allardyce played them. Oh, and it also got on my nerves that you never got interviews with him on MOTD as he was still in a strop for the Panorama thing — but I can’t hold that against him because he was doing that when he was at Bolton too.

But there were positives too. The “sports science” back room. The fact that he wanted players at peak fitness, rather than rushing them back from injury and losing them again for even longer (remember that, Sourness?). And there is the fact that he achieved wonders with Bolton: consecutive European qualifications is little short of fantastic. He’s always seemed to be someone who is capable of getting the best out of players previously seen as problems (Anelka, El Hadji Diouf etc).

I thought he’d get rid of the dressing room malcontents, and just bring in people who’d make headlines for us on the pitch. And then he dropped a bit of a Barton…

But let’s not forget he was also the best man available at the time. Although the timing (sacking Roeder about three minutes after Allardyce resigned from Bolton) did look to be set up as though Shepherd was specifically going for Allardyce.


Then there was the awful capitulation against Wigan, and the insipid uninspired performance against Derby. Two games that have changed my impression considerably. When Allardyce took over, I thought he would be successful. I thought he would add a bit of steel and battle to the team; a bit of a rough edge maybe, but still keep the silky skills and look to entertain the fans. I understood our style of football would have to change a bit, but I expected he would meet us part-way.

And like I’ve said before, what Newcastle fans want is attractive, winning football. We’ll settle for dour winning football. We won’t complain too much if served up with high-quality losing football. But what is completely unacceptable is dour losing football. And the insipid, disinterested dross being served up by Allardyce’s team right now is precisely that.

It’s shit, losing football. I’m not saying he should go now (I’ve been impressed with some of his purchases: well, Habib Beye), but he needs to understand that the quality of the football must improve. He’s not helped by the fact that our team aren’t as good as they think they are, but the thing is that it ought to be getting better, not worse.

One example of Allardyce throwing a game away was away to Chelsea. With about half an hour to go, we equalised to make it 1-1. We had the momentum. I’m not suggesting throwing caution to the wind, but I am suggesting that it would have been reasonable to continue to attack them from time to time. However, what Allardyce did in bringing a defender on for a forward was saying “come on, you attack us for half an hour, and we’ll see if we can hang on to a draw”.

Sorry? It’s no wonder the Newcastle defence is so maligned. They are expected to be under pressure for about eighty-five minutes of every game and never make a mistake. We’ve got better defenders now — conceding more goals — than we had under Keegan. Why? Because under Keegan we didn’t spend eighty-five minutes of each game camped on the edge of our own box desperately trying not to concede goals — we actually tried to score them too!

And here’s the clever bit: during the time we had the ball, in the opposition’s half, they weren’t shooting at our goal. Well, fancy that…

Should he go? My gut reaction says yes. I would like him to adapt to Newcastle and be a success, but I think he’s either unwilling or unable to.

In which case, who?

There’s only one man… the legend that is Alan Shearer.

No, this isn’t one of those Shearer messiah posts. Good footballer, complete unknown as a manager. Might be good, might be crap. You can’t tell until you try. But the problem is that the shadow of “Shearer as manager” is hanging over St James’ Park and has been for both Glenn Roeder and Sam Allardyce’s stewardships, and has kept them under pressure from the outset.

So I’d suggest handing the reins over to Alan sooner rather than later. If he’s a success, brilliant (and I think he’s capable of being a success, having been such a leader on the field). If he’s not, at least then when the next guy comes in he’s not going to have visions of Alan Shearer leering over his shoulder as some kind of balding sword of Damocles…

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2 Comments to The Balding Sword Of Damocles

  1. JackP says:

    January 9th, 2008 at 7:17 pm

    Wow. Can Ijust say I’m honoured that someone in the Newcastle hierachy rates my blog so highly.

    In 2006, I said Souness, for the love of God, go!, and the very next day, Newcastle sacked him.

    In 2008, I posed the question “taxi for Allardyce?” and said that my gut reaction was that he should go. And later that same day, he’s left his position “by mutual consent”.

    Whoever it is who is using my website to determine when to get rid of Newcastle managers might want to give me a call. I’ve got some thoughts regarding players too…

  2. mark fairlamb says:

    January 10th, 2008 at 11:18 am

    you’re dead right about the defending. for some reason newcastle defences have never really been the most solid for as long as i can remember, so you may as well have the ball up the other end for as long as possible.
    and if you lose games 4-3 instead of 2-0 then at least if relegation comes down to goals scored…….,

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