After a long career at Newcastle United, then deciding playing in the depths of the Turkish 2nd tier wasn’t for him, Shola Ameobi’s services were finally in demand.
With approaches from a variety of Premier League clubs needing a striker, his former boss, Alan Pardew, has won out on Shola’s signature.
Back on Tyneside, Shola divided opinion. There is of course a cohort, possibly a majority, who would argue that he was never good enough for Newcastle United. For some of us, he is a cult figure, indeed a role model for those whose talent is not perhaps at the highest level but who have made a totally remarkable career in arguably the top level of football in the world.
Born in Nigeria, the Ameobi family came to the North East when Shola was 5, his siblings being Geordie born and bred. His father still preaches in the shadows of St James’ Park, whilst his sister works at the hospital just down the road from the football palace on the hill. Little brother Sammy is still on Newcastle’s books, middle brother Tomi plying his trade in Canada with Edmonton.
The family connection created a record of sorts. Shola and Sammy have been on the pitch together for the first team, eliciting the famous chant from the crowd of “there’s only two Ameobis.” Their place in Geordie folklore was cemented when they both scored in the same game, a 2-0 League Cup win over the mighty Morecambe.
Shola has been a bit of a one for snippets of history. His supporters would argue that he has made loads, his critics only a little. An undisputed record of his own is the number of Premier League appearances as a substitute. In fact of his 397 appearances for Newcastle, no fewer than 178 were as a substitute.
Again, whilst his detractors question how he earned the shirt on occasions, his supporters will argue that for many years, he was arguably the best 4th choice striker of any club in the Premier League. At one time he was behind Shearer, Bellamy and Kluivert, another behind Owen Viduka and Martins. Nevertheless, he still managed moments of his own, notably leading the line in Barcelona.
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One of the notable comparisons during his career was with a certain Michael Owen who in his time on Tyneside, never scored against one of the domestic clubs to make the Champions League. Shola can boast a goal against each of them, as well as Barcelona.
Whilst a long way behind Shearer, overall, his 79 Newcastle goals put him in the top 5 over the last 50 years, behind Shearer, Supermac, Peter B and Pop Robson. In all time, he is 2nd only to Shearer in European goals scored, 2nd only to Supermac for League Cup goals, 2nd only to Jackie Milburn for goals scored against local rivals Sunderland. He is 2nd to a lot of greats.
Later in his career, Shola was elevated above fourth choice. Newcastle transfer policy has seen Carroll emerge and go, Remy come and go in a season, Ba come and go in a little more. His later days also saw him emerge as a genuine international, playing for the country of his birth. It even took him to the World Cup in Brazil, something which players perhaps held in higher esteem can never claim.
It seems ironic that Shola has signed for Pardew. Other than the World Cup, the other major tournament that Shola could have played for his native country, the Super Eagles, was the African Cup of Nations in 2013. Shola was held back, instead playing around 20 minutes for his club.
So what do Palace, the mere Eagles, get? Shola is one of the most decent men you will ever meet, from any walk of life. He is a dedicated professional, with prospects in coaching after his career is over. He learned from Sir Bobby Robson how to be one of the best defenders of the near post at corners ever seen in the Premier League. He is also a surprisingly prolific striker with around 1 goal every 3 starts, disguised by his overall stats as a sub. Whatever his shortcomings, he makes an excellent squad player.
His supporters on Tyneside wish him well. This season could mark the end of his playing career in the Premier League but you cannot count against it. Given the drama he has faced, there is certainly more to come. Palace seem resurgent and he may help them be safe from relegation.
He potentially faces his boyhood team in a fortnight, with bottom 3 perhaps in sight for them at the time. The Mackem Slayer also potentially faces Sunderland in April to inflict more grief. 3 of the last 4 games at the end of the season are against those sides that he scored against for Newcastle where Michael Owen consistently failed.
Whatever you think of Shola, he could have a fascinating and fantastic end to his career. It will be worth watching. From his supporters on Tyneside, good luck.
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