Has the number nine shirt lost its prestige?

The number nine shirt is engrained in Newcastle United’s history. Many of the greats that have played for the club have donned the ‘famous number nine’.

The latest player was Papiss Cisse, who has headed for pastures anew in China, leaving the shirt vacant.

If the numbers used in training are an indication of what is to come, then our next number nine could be new signing Dwight Gayle, begging the question: has the number nine shirt lost its prestige?

Looking back at previous players to wear the shirt, many have a goal scoring record that more than proved they were worthy of wearing the weighty shirt on their back.

Players like Hughie Gallagher, Jackie Milburn, Malcolm Macdonald, Les Ferdinand and Andy Cole were all deserving of the shirt, scoring more than 500 goals between them in black and white.

The first number nine I had the pleasure of watching was Alan Shearer, the greatest number nine we have had and probably ever will have. He was everything a Newcastle number nine should be: a local lad leading the line and the club – 206 goals for Newcastle United, eclipsing the great Jackie Milburn’s record.

Since Shearer retired, there have only been three number nines: the aforementioned Cisse, Obafemi Martins and Andy Carroll.

Not quite as great as the other names on the list of Newcastle number nines…

Each striker averaged about one goal every three games.

Martins was not worthy of the number nine but had the most difficult job with the greatest predecessor before him. There was simply no way he could ever compare.

Carroll worked his way through the ranks and took on the shirt after scoring 17 goals that helped Newcastle back into the Premier League. The now West Ham striker scored 11 with the nine on his back before jumping ship to  Kenny Dalglish’s Liverpool.

Cisse arrived in 2012 and hit an incredible 13 in 14, helping guide the team to fifth under Alan Pardew. Since then, Cisse never recaptured that form and scored in dribs and drabs, although his goals did help us survive on two occasions.

Although Cisse was an ok number nine and a thoroughly likeable man, once you got past his inability to stay onside, he is another player that just does not compare to the likes of Cole and Ferdinand.

Andy Carroll is the closest Newcastle have came to having another heroic number nine who came from the area, but that dream soon ended once he saw the pound signs flashing as Merseyside came calling. Carroll could have been a Newcastle great. An old fashioned, big centre forward who would bully defenders and score goals. A man who grew up wanting to score at the Gallowgate End, who dreamt about wearing the number nine shirt and scoring goals for Newcastle. Obviously once he scored a few, the novelty sharp wore off and Carroll headed west to become Liverpool’s number nine instead.

I do not doubt the fact that Gayle will score goals for us this season. He could quite easily be our top scorer and the division’s top marksman, but he or any other player should have to earn the shirt rather than having it thrust upon them.

Or are the days of great Newcastle United number nines over?

Is it now just a myth that will remain a part of Newcastle’s past? The 206 goals Shearer scored for Newcastle will never be replicated, the lack of loyalty in the game will simply not allow it.

The number nine was formally one of importance, an importance that it has not really had in the last 10 years. Cisse is a prime example of this. Many a time I would sit and think to myself: “How can he be our number nine?” The history and prestige of the shirt is living off its past glories, rather than the ability of the man who is now wearing the number.

If Newcastle want to maintain the prestige of the coveted number nine shirt, rest it this season and let someone step up and earn it, be it Gayle, Mitrovic, Armstrong or anyone else that comes in.

Allow the shirt to reclaim its legacy rather than put it on someone as it lives off its former glory days.

You can follow James on Twitter @jrutherford11 

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