One of the first things drummed into me as a young player was to never, ever, turn away from a shot, cross or free-kick.
Doing so, immediately gives the advantage to the opposition player.
He can go straight for goal, feint to shoot then pass or cross the ball – while you’ve effectively taken yourself out of the game and presented a possible goalscoring opportunity on a plate.
I was once hauled off the pitch after I’d committed the very same offence that Magpies captain Fabricio Coloccini and his defensive cohorts are consistently guilty of time and time again, game after game. Spreading throughout the ranks, it’s becoming an epidemic.
For me, a quiet word from my manager had the desired effect. If he ever saw me do it again it would be the last match I ever played. I was told to make myself big, stand my ground and asked realistically, what’s the worst thing that can happen?
You might receive a whack in the face (I lost a front tooth on one occasion), take a hit down below (the effects will eventually wear off, painful as it may seem at the time), or if you’re really unlucky the ball can strike your hand resulting in a free-kick or penalty (never happened).
From then on I made sure I was in every defensive wall, gritted my teeth and took a hit if it came my way.
It certainly can’t be worse than giving a goal away, letting down the manager and teammates and being banished from the team, can it?
So why can’t the highly-paid, physically superior, modern-day Premiership ’stars’ of Newcastle United – in front of 50,000 paying supporters no less – do the same as a skinny 17-year-old playing for the love of the game back in the 1980s?
Pure and simple: it’s a lack of honesty and in my own opinion, even cowardice isn’t too strong a word for it.
Having watched the Magpies since the managerial reign of the late Bill McGarry when United plied their trade in the old Second Division, I’ve seen the good, bad and the brilliant displayed on the Gallowgate turf.
The partially-redeveloped St James Park was a virtual wasteland in those days but the honest endeavour of players like Brownlie, Blackley, Withe and Shoulder was always appreciated by the 20,000 diehard fans who incidentally, also managed to create more noise than twice their number achieve some three decades later.
Honesty is going in where it hurts, fighting for every ball, rollicking your teammates when they deserve it, encouraging them in the next breath and simply doing your job to the best of your ability.
Just as millions of supporters do for a relative pittance as we contribute our hard-earned cash to the inflated salaries meted out to our footballing heroes.
While we all admire those special players whose natural talent makes them stand out from the rest, absolutely nothing can ever be achieved without total and utter commitment to the team and never have I seen such a total lack of that particular quality, from those currently wearing the black and white shirts of Newcastle United.
Whatever your opinions on the management skills of Pardew, Carver or McClaren, I find it very hard to believe that all three would be as equally deficient in their attempts to produce a team capable of holding its own in the Premiership.
Regardless of the identity of the individual in the manager’s/caretaker’s/coach’s boots, the symptoms are ominously similar.
Where are the basic skills of marking?
Covering for one another?
Closing the opposition down?
Being first to the ball?
The answer lies perhaps not in the boardroom, nor in the dugout, but on the pitch. Just where is that much-needed commitment coming from?
Steven Taylor has his critics, yes he’s injury prone, speaks without engaging his brain at times and the red mist is never far away, but no one could ever, ever, accuse him of not giving his all when he’s actually on the pitch.
For his efforts he looks to be heading out of the door come the end of the season but what of his teammates and most importantly his captain?
Just watch our Captain Courageous over the course of ninety minutes.
He’s not one for vocalising we’re led to believe, but prefers leading by example – unfortunately in his case it’s the wrong example.
He’s easily pushed off the ball by opposing strikers with even a modicum of physical presence, hapless against skilful players, woefully falls short facing forwards with pace and is worryingly prone to leaving his man unmarked.
And you know what?
None of this would matter.
He gave it his all…
If he bust a gut to be first to that cross….
Or went through someone once in a while to let them know he was actually there….
Showed any positive reaction when his team conceded a free kick, corner or even a goal…
If he didn’t turn his back on almost every attempted shot, cross or challenge…
And herein lies the problem.
If the captain of Newcastle United Football Club isn’t fully committed to the cause then why would the rest of the squad feel they should be any different and put their own bodies on the line?
Despite the positive spin emanating from within the corridors of St James Park, presenting the out-of-sorts Coloccini with a new contract when he looked odds-on for a timely exit in the summer, the club has sent out the wrong message to both players and fans alike.
Instead of rewarding ability, commitment and leadership, the NUFC hierarchy have created a situation where young and talented players with potential are led by a captain without spirit, without heart and without honesty.
Isn’t it time that Newcastle United turned their backs on Fabricio Coloccini…..?
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