Refusing to make any further comments on the present nightmare at Newcastle United, I have reverted to type and looked back to the good times.
In particular I have looked at the 2 teams that came close to winning the Premiership, comparing the players and trying to pick a best of…
They were only 7 years apart and the players/manager had changed, although to be fair the playing philosophy had not. These were both exciting teams.
‘Squads’ played less of an issue (certainly in 1995/6) so it is easy to compare like with like. You may not agree but for those over 25 every single player brings back some great memories (with the possible exception of Titus Bramble).
1995/96 Srnicek/Hislop, Barton/Watson, Beresford, Peacock, Albert, Clark/Batty, Lee, Gillespie, Ginola, Beardsley, Ferdinand. Sub Asprilla (see later). Manager: Keegan
2002/03 Given, Griffin/Hughes, Bernard, Bramble, O’Brien/Woodgate, Jenas/Dyer, Speed, Solano, Robert, Bellamy, Shearer Sub Shola (see later) Manager: Robson
Goalkeeper: When the bones were picked out of the 1995/96 failure to win the title and the blame apportioned, my feeling was one of the main failings was at keeper. OK, both Shaka and Pavel were constantly exposed by some dire defending but neither were top quality keepers. Swap them for Schmeichel and we would have walked the title. Shay was a very good keeper, sometimes brilliant, but a little too short for being a true great. Clear winner GIVEN
Full-backs: Some great attacking options at both left and right full-back. On the right hand side I never really warmed to ‘Centre Parting’, Griffin couldn’t half make a tackle but little else, Stevie Watson was solid if slow, so almost by default I will go with Aaron Hughes, partly because selling him was surely one of the great toon errors.
At left-back it is a direct shoot-out between Beresford and Bernard. Two great attacking full-backs, average defenders but both seriously exposed by what was in front of them. Despite Johnny B scoring exactly at the moment I was getting married (against Villa) I am going with Bernard…just. HUGHES & BERNARD.
Centre-Backs: Some horror stories here but once Bramble is discarded (and he did have the odd good game) it is reasonably straightforward. Darren Peacock was badly exposed during the Keegan era but he was also not very good, likewise ‘any O’Brien’, which leaves me with 2 classy performers.
Philippe Albert was underrated as a centre-back, I thought he was excellent even if his attacking instincts left his mate exposed at times, whilst for the limited number of games he played, Woodgate was pure class. The best centre-back we have ever had in my watching lifetime. WOODGATE & ALBERT
Midfield: I am putting just two in here and making an early choice in Rob Lee and Gary Speed, partly because they could combine so well. One goes forward, one stays, both could pass, both had great engines and both great leadership qualities. Of the competition, Lee Clark was good but somehow not quite influential enough in the big games, David Batty too limited, Jenas had a flaky temperament whilst in 2002/3 both Dyer and Solano played in central midfield at times but both were actually better out wide. LEE & SPEED.
Wide Men: We have had some fantastic wide men and here the competion gets hot. On the left it is a straight shoot-out between Ginola and Robert and a party of 10 will be split down the middle. Robert was more effective in scoring, a better dead ball specialist, both could cross the ball well but Ginola in full flight was something special. However, for his effectiveness, dead ball skills and offering something different to the team, I have to stay with Robert.
On the right side Gillespie was the only true out and out winger and on his day (Barcelona anyone?) unstoppable but his bad days really were bad, crossing being a major issue. Kieron Dyer was a top player and devastating at his best whilst Nobby Solano was all craft, culture and an exquisite right foot. Both scored goals, great goals, but particularly away from home I always felt Dyer was more of a threat. Bear in mind this is about football and not who was the nicest fella! DYER & ROBERT.
No 10s: Two of the greatest players to don the No 10 role were Bellamy and Beardsley. Both blackened their copy book off the field, Bellamy was simply an objectionable ass whilst Beardsley engineered an out from the Toon in the 80s purely for money and is part of the despicable regime which is presently running the club. As players both were brilliant, exceptional and achieved things that others could not.
Bellamy was exciting, had pace to burn and made a wonderful foil for Shearer (even Shearer admitted Bellamy’s legs kept his career alive) but Peter Beardsley was just a wonderful instinctive player. Anyone who says to himself with injury time approaching at White Hart Lane, ‘sod this I’d better win the game now’ and then does so by weaving through their entire team is something special. In my opinion the best player to ever wear the shirt. BEARDSLEY.
No 9: Ferdinand and Shearer did play together for a season and were immense, Ferdinand was also a key part of the 1995/96 team which strolled to the 12 point lead but sadly his form just dropped off in the 2nd half of the season when we needed it. If Shearer had played that season I reckon we would have won it. Shearer may have been past his absolute best in his later toon years but his influence, leadership and goalscoring was exceptional. SHEARER.
Sub: I had to mention two other players who played their part in each season; the incomparable Tino Asprilla (the most exciting player I have ever seen) and Shola…nuff said.
Manager: Two outstanding managers, if only Robson had succeeded Keegan when Keegan ran out of puff, we would have established ourselves as one of the country’s great football institutions. Hey ho.
I hope you enjoy reading this as much as I enjoyed writing it and feel free to agree or disagree in the comments section below.
You can follow Jonnie on Twitter @Where2Walk