The career of Shola Ameobi kind of summed up the fluctuating fortunes of Newcastle United over the course of that time.
Shola made his debut for Newcastle against Chelsea as a 19 year old under Sir Bobby Robson and looked a decent prospect.
He became a back-up striker for the likes of Alan Shearer and Craig Bellamy, as well as scoring seven goals in 20 games for the England Under 21s.
Those years under Sir Bobby showed a player that did have something and could even potentially establish himself as a regular Premier League player, some excellent displays in the Champions League backed this up, scoring away at the likes of Bayer Leverkusen (two goals) and Barcelona.
After Sir Bobby’s reign ended, the rest of the Shola Ameobi years kind of matched the club, step by step. Mostly depressing but occasionally punctuated by spots of hope, in Shola’s case they usually came when he lined up against Sunderland.
Whether it was injury, a lack of the necessary hunger to be the best he could be, or a bit of both, Shola Ameobi ended up getting a contract or two too many at St James Park. For the first time ever in his career, Shola got double figures in the league when Newcastle were last in the Championship.
Following that recovery season, it should have really been that point when he was moved on. Sadly, he was kept on to make up the squad instead of buying the quality needed, with Newcastle then paying the price as they regularly struggled. Not that all/most of the blame could be laid at Shola’s door but 11 league goals in his last four years at Newcastle (five in his last three) tells you a story.
Now Newcastle find themselves back in the Championship once again under Mike Ashley and they can’t afford to go down the Shola Ameobi route once again.
Ironically, it was his brother Sammy who sparked this article, coming on for the final 25 minutes or so against Rotherham.
Rafa has been generous with his words about the younger Ameobi, since he was brought back from Bolton and after yesterday’s cameo.
Rafa Benitez asked about Sammy Ameobi following his sub performance v Rotherham:
“He did well and the fans were happy with him.
“He started the game really well and we know he has quality – he has to show this on the pitch.
“He is training really well and I’m pleased for him.
“We knew we needed a player like him who can bring quality in the wider area and he showed some of that today."
Some fans and media have interpreted these words and others from Rafa Benitez as equalling a longer-term future for Sammy Ameobi at Newcastle but our Manager is cuter than that. Unlike previous Newcastle Managers/Head Coaches…Rafa doesn’t do his players down, he has used similar words for many other fringe/unwanted players, including Cheick Tiote, as being positive is the only way you are going to get anything productive out of any player.
Bottom line is that Rafa has also said that he had no choice but to bring back both Sammy Ameobi and Jamie Sterry from their loan spells, at least until he makes signings and/or the trio come back from the African Cup of Nations.
The reality yesterday was that it was all a bit Panto, Newcastle fans having a bit of extra fun as Sammy Ameobi was introduced to give Gouffran a rest, United having gone 3-0 up at home against the worst team in the division, who were also by this point absolutely knackered in having tried, and failed, to shackle Jonjo Shelvey and Newcastle.
Up in the family enclosure groups of teenagers sang that they were going to be on the pitch ‘if Sammy scores’, all a bit dangerous when you are sitting in Level 7…
Meanwhile the rest of the crowd gave spirited cheers whenever Sammy got the ball, a mixture of cheering any player who happens to be wearing black and white but mostly ironic, in that they had/have little or no expectation of his producing anything.
Good luck to him if he does, in the event of getting any further minutes on the pitch, before signings are made and/or the players return from Gabon.
Rafa could may well decide to keep Sammy Ameobi at St James Park until May, just in case there is a further rush of injuries, but he won’t be getting another contract.
The same I hope and expect will be the same with Vurnon Anita and Yoan Gouffran, both doing a job in the Championship but not good enough for the Premier League. People may point to Paul Dummett getting his new contract ahead of this season but he has shown he can do a steady job, even though skinned a couple of times once again by his Rotherham opponent, but I’m sure the contract was given in the knowledge that Newcastle should easily be able to sell Dummett on to a Championship club if promoted.
Getting promotion is only the first of many challenges that lie ahead for Rafa Benitez, the Premier League has never ever been so competitive as it is now, in terms of so much money chasing the small number of players good enough to prosper in the division.
Rafa (if promoted) will need to strip the squad as much as possible of those players not good enough to actually play in the Premier League, those who ‘can do a job’ in he Championship such as Gouffran, Anita, Dummett (and potentially even Sammy Ameobi), need to find new clubs.
Cheick Tiote is hoepfully at last on his way in the coming days and if not, by the end of June at latest, but Rafa Benitez faces the prospect of players such as Siem de Jong, Emmanuel Riviere and Henri Saivet all drifting back to Tyneside after uninspiring years out on loan – Newcastle finding it impossible to sell them and the best case scenario being to subsidise their wages as is happening this season.
Even Tim Krul can’t even get on the bench at Ajax despite back to full fitness, though you would hope that he will at least bring in a transfer fee in the summer with a year remaining on his contract.
Rafa Benitez will need to look forwards and not backwards when it comes to looking for players who can take the club back to where we believe it should be.