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Where Is Number 9?

8 years ago
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I wasn’t too excited about Andy Carroll when his name first started appearing on Newcastle team sheets. My dad would rave about the big Gateshead lad he had seen making various outings in cup competitions but how many times have promising strikers failed to deliver any of the potential they suggest in youth and reserve teams?

After scoring against Juventus in a pre-season friendly back in 2007, Gianluigi Buffon singled the 18 year old Carroll out for praise, affording him the somewhat dubious compliment of being a ‘paintbrush striker’. The sentiment, which I imagine sounds more poetic in the goalkeeper’s native Italian, apparently referred to his ability to provide the ‘finishing touches’. Even then, I was far from convinced.

Relegation to the Championship gave Andy the chance to prove his worth and the first hint of what he could become was when celebrating with the fans after scoring at Blackpool away. A Newcastle fan sharing in the joy of the toon going 1-0 up. Throughout that season Carroll took advantage of more first team opportunities and began to show that perhaps he was tailor made for the number 9 shirt. Swashbuckling, committed, and with a definite eye for goal, I too was starting to buy into the hype. His hat-trick against Villa, Number 9 on his back, announced Newcastle’s return to the Premiership with a bang.

The point is, Newcastle need a Number 9 fit for the shirt. More than just a centre forward, we only work when we possess that talisman leading the line. The fans and the team feed off the anticipation whenever he gets the ball. The Number 9, when worn properly, is not merely symbolic; they are the catalyst, the hope when desperately chasing a goal in the last 5 minutes of a game, and so often the relief when we’ve played poorly against ‘inferior’ opposition.

I was brought up on Shearer, others will remember Milburn, Supermac and Gallacher before them. Andy Carroll looked like he could grow into the same sort of status. It was a false dawn however, a shame that Tyneside was stripped of its hero in the making before any of us really had the chance to enjoy him.

Despite Papiss Cisse certainly being good enough to play a part in a Newcastle team, he is not Number 9 material, and it is a little unfair for us to expect him to be. Played in the right formation, he would make a great sidekick and understudy, but unfortunately he doesn’t weigh in with enough goals nor possess the self assuredness to shrug off lean spells, necessary to shoulder the burden of the shirt.

Performances so far this season, and indeed last season, highlight that whilst having a decent team on paper there is still something missing. There is nobody there to provide those all important finishing touches; even the renaming of Shearer’s bar stands as an ironic reminder of the vacant throne on Gallowgate.

When Andy Carroll left that January with his huge price tag around his neck, my Dad told me not to worry because one day he’d be back, and a better player for it.

Maybe, maybe not, but one thing is for sure, until that shirt is properly filled, Newcastle fans will be starved of the ups that help soothe all these dark and gloomy downs.

 

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