The Outstanding Newcastle United 11 That Should Have Been
So many special players have graced the lush turf of St James’ Park since the inception of the Premier League. The likes of David Ginola, Les Ferdinand, Peter Beardsley, Alan Shearer and Nobby Solano have provided magical moments in the black and white shirt, delighting Toon fans with a cocktail of flair, desire and charisma (Maybe not the last one for big Al!).
Sadly for every blue chipper, there are several who for some reason never quite fulfilled their potential on Tyneside, despite clearly possessing the ability to do so. For some it was dodgy work permit decisions, others were just dodgy – this is the eleven that should have become Newcastle legends.
Kevin Keegan was a shrewd operator in the transfer market during his first spell as manager, with 23 year-old American colossus Friedel set to challenge Pavel Srnicek for the number one jersey at the club.
Unfortunately, that dream never materialised into anything tangible, with the unsigned Friedel unable to get a work permit to play, despite spending time training with the club.
Eventually, an error-strewn spell at Liverpool was followed by outstanding service for Blackburn, Aston Villa and Tottenham Hotspur, with the custodian at one stage playing an astonishing record of 310 consecutive Premier League matches.
Right Back: Stephen Carr (2004-08)
Over a decade of excellence with Spurs had seen Carr linked with Manchester United on more than one occasion, so it seemed like £2m seemed like a snip when Sir Bobby Robson brought the Irishman into the fold in the summer of 2004.
What transpired was four seasons of gradual weight gain that would have made John Barnes and Sol Campbell blush, with the serious knee injury incurred by the player in 2001 seemingly having depleted his pace, exposing a lack of depth in the full-back’s game.
Carr’s Magpies career was possibly best summed up by an appalling error, which sealed the club’s elimination from the UEFA Cup in 2005 at the hands of Sporting Lisbon. With his team needing a goal in the dying minutes to progress, the right back inexplicably turned straight into an opposing attacker, gifting a goal that confirmed our exit – the only thing more yellow than the shirt Carr was wearing that night was the streak running down his back.
Left Back: Alessandro Pistone (1997-2000)
In the summer of 1997, Kenny Dalglish resolved to reshape Newcastle United from the back. Snapping up veteran Stuart Pearce, Shay Given and a little later David Terrier. Most exciting of all though, £4.3m was splurged on Inter Milan’s Italian Under-21 captain Alessandro Pistone.
A positive debut against Sheffield Wednesday was followed by decent showings versus Spurs and Everton, as the 22 year-old was thrust into an unfamiliar centre-back role.
From there things began to unravel, with Pistone’s lack of physical strength and perceived paucity of heart seeing him bullied by powerhouse strikers and making him appear unsuited to the nature of the league.
Ruud Gullit wanted nothing to do with him, banishing him to Venezia on loan in 1999 and despite a brief renaissance under Sir Bobby Robson, the club negotiated superbly to recoup £3m when Everton came calling in 2000.
Centre Half: Sami Hyypia (1995)
Yes, admittedly he was only on trial, but this is Sami Hyypia – the same Sami Hyypia who spent ten years ingraining himself into the fabric of Anfield, pivotal in Liverpool’s Champions League success, as well as contributing to several other domestic and European triumphs.
The same Sami Hyypia who set the Reds back £500,000, while we suffered, among others, the £20m trio of bumbling buffoons: Bramble, Boumsong and perpetual finger sprain sufferer, Marcelino Elena.
His trial under KK in 1995 never resulted in a full-time deal with the club, but the Finn could undoubtedly have spared us years of lavish expenditure on lily-livered defenders and enhanced a squad that was already one of the finest in the land.
Under Sir Bobby Robson’s guidance, Newcastle had become one of the most exciting young sides in Europe. Jonathan Woodgate was supposed to be one of the final pieces in the jigsaw.
In the 37 games that the constantly crocked ‘Woody’ took part, he showed enough ability to suggest that he could be the best centre half in the country. With an ideal combination of leadership, presence, timing and confidence, the £8m signing from Leeds had the talent to take us to the next level.
That never happened, as the player was sold to Real Madrid for £13.4m and spent a year on the sidelines there, before belatedly debuting against Athletic Bilbao the following season in a match that saw him score an own goal and receive a red card.
Keegan tried to bring the fading force back in 2008, but had a lucky escape when he chose Tottenham instead. It was a while ago now, but fans seemed unanimously overjoyed when we snapped up Woody, he should have become a legend at SJP.
Right Wing: George Georgiadis (1998-99)
A fee of only £420,000 suggested that a bargain deal had been done for this diminutive winger-cum-number ten, who had excelled for Panathinaikos in the Greek league, lighting up the Apostolos Nikolaidis Stadium with a strike rate of better than one in three.
Georgiadis was even compared to the great Peter Beardsley by the club’s Chief Executive, Freddie Fletcher, who suggested that we’d beaten off all and sundry to secure the services of a 26 year-old with the world at his feet.
Fast forward ten months and, barring one flukey FA Cup goal, the Greek international had been an undisputed flop. He headed back to his homeland in 1999, with PAOK reimbursing Newcastle’s outlay, as a twelve-match stint in the North East came to a close.
Left Wing: Albert Luque (2005-07)
‘Twas the summer of reckless expenditure, as Chairman Freddy Shepherd put it all on the line for a tilt at the title, signing a host of big names to beef up the squad for Graeme Souness.
Luque was the worst, with an initially reported £9m fee eventually revealed to have been closer to £11m, the Spaniard having been tirelessly scouted… Well, he was scouted a bit… Ok, fat Freddie signed him based on a video and a few words from a guy at Real Madrid, who said that he was one of the best four strikers in the league.
Albert certainly had the talent to prosper in England and a left foot that could shell peas, alas he never wanted to leave previous club, Deportivo La Coruna, and reportedly asked for a ridiculous pay packet of over £100,000 per week to kill the prospective transfer in the water, incredibly a desperate Shepherd agreed the terms without hesitation.
To the relief of everyone at SJP, Ajax took clown shoes on a free transfer in 2007 (That’s Luque, not Shepherd).
Central Midfield: Silvio Maric (1998-2000)
When Newcastle faced Dinamo Zagreb in the 1997-98 Champions League qualifying round, they found their defence dazzled by the incisive, direct play of opposition midfield maestro, Silvio Maric.
The Croatian was still on the radar a year later and Ruud Gullit pounced, persuading the 23 year-old to snub Liverpool in favour of a £3.65m move to Tyneside. It seemed like a good fit all round, with creativity lacking within a stale squad and the player ambitious to play in the Premier League.
Maric did appear on the surface to try harder than some others in this eleven, but was too lightweight for the league and drifted into the reserves before long, the club doing well to eke £2m out of FC Porto for his services in the summer of 2000.
He did, at least, have a hand in Alan Shearer’s second goal in the FA Cup semi-final win over Spurs in 1999, beautifully weighting a pass for the skipper to smash home from 25 yards.
Central Midfield: Jon Dahl Tomasson (1997-98)
This one hurts, a player who publically snubbed the Mackems and lit up Newcastle’s 1997-98 pre-season with a series of clinical goals in a role behind Alan Shearer or Les Ferdinand, was thrust into the side as a striker when the former went lame and the latter was sold within 48 hours.
When Faustino Asprilla was also sold later that year, it left Ian Rush, Temuri Ketsbaia John Barnes and Tomasson to scrap it out for a role up front – something that none of them really relished, either due to age, being played out of position or both.
Sold to Feyenoord for a small profit in 1998, Jon went on to become a legend, with his successful spell back home followed up by exceptional displays at AC Milan, Stuttgart and at international level for Denmark, with the player equalling his country’s goal scoring record.
Sadly, it’s likely that Ruud Gullit, who rated the Dane, would likely have reinstated him to his former role, where he had more chance of prospering with a fit again Alan Shearer in tow.
The Souness era of sour milk and sickly honey concluded (from a big money signing point of view) with England’s star striker, Michael Owen, joining the club for a club record fee of £17m on a four-year deal.
St James’ Park was opened to the public, who came for a glimpse of the star’s arrival, celebrating and chanting his name alongside that of the returning Nobby Solano, the next impending addition to a burgeoning squad. It’s amazing looking back, just how badly every big money addition, other than Scott Parker, turned out to be during that period.
Owen never really tried to hide the fact that he was at St James’ for the short term, which was fine as long as he performed in his time as a Magpie. He started impressively, striking 7 goals in his first 8 matches, but was never the same after colliding with Spurs ‘keeper Paul Robinson only two appearances later.
From there it was a catalogue of injuries, one of which caused the FA, in an unprecedented move, to compensate NUFC to the tune of £12m. Only 23 further strikes were registered by the diminutive forward during the following three seasons, with Owen opting to snub a new contract offer to join Manchester United on a free in 2009, waving adios to his relegated teammates.
Striker: Patrick Kluivert (2004-05)
Has there ever been a more technically gifted forward on Tyneside? Kluivert’s exquisite touch and casual class showed the quality that had made him such a superstar at both club and international level over the years. He’d always appreciated the reception Toon fans gave him when Newcastle played Barcelona in 2003, something that swayed his decision to join the club.
A free transfer, the 28 year-old started well, with sumptuous goals in Europe and a dazzling display against Norwich in the League Cup.
Sadly, he seemed far more enamoured with supping Mojitos and experiencing Quayside nightlife than kicking a leather sphere around some grass, although he did muster an adequate 13 goals by the end of the campaign, including the winner against Chelsea in the FA Cup Quarter-final.
His one-year contract coming to an end, Kluivert moved on, making similarly unremarkable stops in Spain, Holland and France before hanging up his boots to hit the party scene full time.
Those are my picks for the stars that never were – what do you guys think? Let me know in the comments below!
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