So 11 games into a fairly successful season and I will admit to a warming to Rafael Benitez.
I’ve never been Rafa’s biggest fan since reading his autobiography, ‘Rafa Benitez: My Life Winning 1-0 away from home by scoring in the 37th minute and then successfully defending that lead’, but I think he became a little bit more like a Newcastle fan after the thrilling end to the 4-3 home victory against Norwich last week. The normally calm Spaniard had a little leap of joy onto the hull of supersub Mitro and that joy was more than welcome after a difficult 96 minutes against a Norwich team who are bound to be near us at the top of the league come the end of the season.
It was the sort of games which most managers hate, a game they can’t control and the 0-1 win away at Rotherham was much more like it for Rafa, the sort of game which he has based his reputation on. Although I haven’t yet been totally converted to his team’s style of play or some of the players in it, I have enjoyed his chat, it is the first time I have enjoyed listening to one of our managers since Shola was called Carl Cort. Amongst the often sensible and pragmatic quotes, most of which seem to be correct, there is the occasional gem, Benitez said:
“We need to realise we’re now the head of the mouse, and not the tail of the lion. It’s a Spanish expression. So, when you are in the Premier League, you are the tail of the lion and some people are happy being the tail of the lion, some prefer to be the head of the mouse.”
Of course we would rather be the head of the lion but I know what he means.
I have always enjoyed the Spanish love of expressions since a fellow manager told the then Real Madrid gaffer Jose Mourinho after beating them 1-0 and listening to the Portuguese post-match whine, that “if you sh*t standing up, eventually it will go in your pants.”
So in this international week, I have enjoyed being the head of the mouse and I hope Rafa has too. Although I doubt he will admit it, the break may have been a welcome one for some of our players, we’ve got a lot of games to play in the next two months and one or two of them look like they needed a break.
None more so than previous first choice goalkeeper Matz Sels who lost his place to Karl Darlow after a hapless game at Aston Villa, his mistake probably costing us two of the three points. The break should give him a chance to catch his breath after a hectic first couple of months to his SJP career, hopefully he will come back stronger from this blip and turn into the goalkeeper which Benitez thinks he is.
After the Villa game some of our supporters wafted the finger of blame at the Belgian stopper, so much so that he closed his twitter account after the post-match criticism, or should that be dropped his twitter after post-match criticism. I’m sure the account will be back open soon, Sels probably just flapped at it rather than closing it altogether.
A couple of our ex-managers have been enjoying a relaxing break this week when they would have expected to have been working. The only thing that is ‘Big’ about Sam Allardyce at the moment is his mouth, the daft get being caught out chancing his arm at rule-bending for an Asian consortium who were really reporters in disguise.
It’s hard to see why he thought it was necessary to try and get 400K out of a collection of chancers looking to employ him when he was already getting £3million out of another one at FA HQ but I’m glad that the truth is finally out and he’s been shown to be the borderline crook that we all suspected. I’ll be watching out for the film, Bend It Like Allardyce, coming soon to cinemas near you. My only regret about the whole affair was that the Telegraph investigation stopped short of finding out how many rules he broke when we paid £6million for Alan Smith, presumably there is one in there about the player being able to play football for a start.
‘400 grand you say? I’m sure we can work something out’
It hasn’t been a great week for ex-coach and ex-caretaker manager Nigel Pearson, eventually sacked by Derby after initially being suspended by the Midlands club after an angry confrontation with Chairman Mel Morris. Although the reason for the parting of the ways may never become public, rumour has it that the owner’s use of drones to watch the players train was something Pearson could not put up with. It is believed that Nigel suggested that if the owner wanted to watch the players putting it in he should arrange a midweek club trip to Thailand and Pearson would ask his family along, that would give the drones something worth recording.
Elsewhere, some of our ex-players have been in bother too. Joey Barton, self-proclaimed best player in Scotland, got himself into trouble by first winding Celtic up so much that they beat Rangers 5-1 in the Glasgow derby, then Barton had a punch up with a team mate, supposedly calling Rangers a “sh*t club in a sh*t league.” Then he has got himself suspended after allegedly betting on Celtic to lose to Barcelona.
I’ve always been more of a fan of Joey’s mouth than his feet, or his fists for that matter, I always thought he was more entertaining off the field than he was effective on it, though I will admit to the phrases “5-1” and “Joey Barton” together having a special place in my heart. What happens to the scouse mosquito is anyone’s guess though it’s unlikely he’ll get the England manager’s job now that Gareth Southgate has his nose in the door.
Barton claimed in his new autobiography that he would do much better at it than either Roy Hodgson or Sam Allardyce in the England hot-seat and while that may be true, John Carver could probably have got England further into Euro 2016 than Roy Hodgson did. It seems a shame that Barton’s career will come to an end just as his autobiography comes out. Unfortunately for Joey I think the book will probably be better than he is.
‘Joey Barton: Complete Nonsense – The Autobiography’
Still, Joey has had better news than one-time team mate Patrick van Aanholt who was pictured smoking a shisha pipe before being withdrawn from a Mackem match a few minutes before kick-off due to health problems. Fortunately those heart problems seem to have been greatly exaggerated and he can start trying to overcome the biggest challenge of his life, getting out of Sunderland.
Another player who was at Sunderland in the summer has heart problems, former Toon shirker Charles N’Zogbia was on trial at the Mackems and now looks like he will have to retire from the game because of a heart condition. It seems he hasn’t got one. If the doctors look hard enough they’ll probably find that he hasn’t got a spine or any guts either.
Likewise Andy Carroll’s injury problems continue. The Gateshead Fist has denied this week that he has suffered an injury setback and is still well on course to play a large part in BUPA’s profits for 2016/17. The Teams Tornado forgot to include all of the information in his tweets this week, firstly rambling:
“My recovery is going great this was a 6-8 injury so everything is going to plan!!! #NoSetback”.
And following it up with an equally illiterate:
“Devastated about my recent injured [sic] but I’m still the 15-20 goal man! #COYI”.
15-20 goals man eh? Now that is something for Joey Barton to bet on given that he hasn’t scored anywhere near 15 goals in a season since the last time we were in the Championship and that he has only scored 29 goals since he left us in 2011. Despite that, I still think it was a big mistake all round for Carroll to leave NUFC all those years ago and although Liverpool will readily admit that they wish it had never happened, I wonder if both NUFC and Carroll would privately admit it too. True we have had better strikers than Andy since he left but none that led from the front as much and none as talismanic.
For Carroll himself, seeing him with his new celebrity life and wife is a bit like being a Beatles fan and watching John Lennon and Yoko Ono on Through The Keyhole. He’d have been much better off spending his Saturday nights lamping someone in Perdu than re-designing his living room for Closer magazine, it would have kept him fitter too. The only injuries he had at NUFC were broken hands, proper Tyneside injuries them, not your bloody soft southern ligament injuries like what they get down in that London.
‘Andy Carroll: More chance of that stick getting 20 goals this season’
Finally, nothing to with NUFC but last week Yaya Toure’s agent Dimitri Seluk publicly criticised Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola and suggested that in order to prove himself as a great manager he should go to a team like Sunderland. Speaking to Sky Sports News, he said:
“Pep was successful at Barcelona and Bayern Munich, but take a look behind that success. The team he took at Barca had been built by Frank Rijkaard and then he was lucky to have Lionel Messi. It was Messi who made Barca, not Pep. If Pep wants to prove himself as a great manager, then he should go to Real Zaragoza or Sunderland.”
Real Zaragoza or Sunderland, brilliant. A Spanish second division team run on a shoe-string budget or the Mackems, how I laughed. It is a great comparison, though Real Zaragoza are said to be furious with it.