Newcastle United – The Tragic Heroes of Football

Posted: August 15, 2010 by undergroundfisherman in Sport
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Of all the games in this opening weekend of Premiership action, the one that stands out the most is Monday night’s clash between newly-promoted Newcastle United and Manchester United. While most people would say Liverpool v Arsenal  is a bigger game (and it is), the Magpies 102 points in last year’s Coca-Cola Championship proves they are an interesting prospect for their new season in the top flight.

Roberto Di Matteo may find things tough at West Brom this season

We have seen some contrasting fortunes from the two other newly-promoted teams so far, Blackpool’s 4-0 demolition of Wigan shows what a tight, well-organised squad of players can achieve, while West Brom’s capitulation at the hands of Chelsea reminds us that the smaller teams must know their limits – ordinary footballers forced to play beautiful football will always fall short when faced with the reigning champions. Newcastle are an altogether different prospect, with Argentine internationals Jónas Gutierrez and Fabricio Colloccini in their ranks, the Black and White will not be in awe of their Old Trafford surroundings. Kevin Nolan was the best player in the Championship by some distance, while up front, they have a genuine successor to Alan Shearer’s boots in the young Andy  Carroll.

Carroll: Part of a new era on Tyneside

The history between the Toon and the Red Devils goes back to the mid 90’s, when Kevin Keegan’s side was 12 points clear at Christmas, only to collapse in the later stages of the 96/97 season, handing the title to United in the process.

These two videos sum up what is best about the mercurial north-east side, the first is Keegan’s infamous rant towards the end of that season, with their rivals closing in. The second shows what happened on October 21, 1996, a day which lives long in the memories of fans.

Once Keegan had left, his side slipped into gradual decline, with Kenny Dalglish and Ruud Gullit guiding the Magpies to mediocre mid-table finishes, and successive defeats in the ’98 and ’99 FA Cup. Things took a significant upturn when Bobby Robson was appointed manager in 2000, and they finished fourth the year after, and made the top five twice more during his tenure. Then, perhaps predictably, as the veteran Geordie made way for Graeme Souness, things fell apart once again. The Scotsman’s short stay left a bad taste in the mouths of fans, especially with the club hemorrhaging money through the permanently-crocked Michael Owen, who cost £17 million and made just 71 appearances in four years. Souness was followed by Glenn Roeder, Sam Allardyce, Joe Kinnear and Alan Shearer, which brings us right up to the present day, with Irishman Chris Hughton.

Hughton has won many admirers with his calm outlook in difficult times

Gone are the days of spending daft money on the likes of Owen, Hughton has moulded a team primarily out of good, up-and-coming English players. The signings of James Perch, and Dan Gosling should prove very good investments indeed, while the addition of Sol Campbell should give their traditionally shaky back-line some muscle. 35 year-old Campbell had come in for some criticism about his weight in recent weeks, but going by last season’s performances for Arsenal, he’s still got it.

Ashley: Unpopular

All of these pragmatic, sensible signings do make the typical Newcastle fan yearn for a bit of folly though; the likes of Faustino Asprilla, Carl Cort, Hugo Viana, and of course Michael Owen are all part of an era that will probably never return to St James’ Park. With the notoriously penny-pinching Mike Ashley in charge of finances, Hughton doesn’t have much to work with. Still, if they can finally complete the loan signing of Hatem Ben Arfa from Marseille, they will have pulled off the biggest transfer coup of the summer. He will join a long line of tempermental French wingers to serve the club. David “40 fags a day” Ginola and Laurent Robert have gone down in the club’s folklore, and Ben Arfa’s style of play really suits the English game.

So, how will they actually fare out this season? Well, they are nowhere near Sir Bobby’s great team of the early noughties. At the moment, their strengths lie in midfield; the typical line-up this year will be Gutierrez, Barton/Smith, Guthrie and Lovenkrands/Ben Arfa, with Kevin Nolan just behind a lone striker. Compared to a typical ’03/’04 midfield of Robert, Speed, Jenas and Solano, (plus Shearer and Bellamy up front), so there’s still a long way to go. I have often said, having followed them closely in the Championship last year, that they would have come around 12th in the Premiership with the form they were in. Now, with a few extra signings under their belt, and a new winning mentality forged during tough times last year, they should (in theory at least) do pretty well. Well worth putting a fiver on them staying up anyway.

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