Look Back In Anger – The Graeme Souness Era
As a Newcastle fan you learn to live more in hope than expectation, there have been so many false dawns in recent years that not even Mystic Meg’s uber upbeat cousin would foresee a trophy burdening the club’s optimistically large cabinet in the near future. In the interim the one thing we do crave is entertainment.
Sadly that’s been in short supply at the back end of this campaign, with no spectre of relegation and no lust to dust off the passports for a spot of inter-railing around Europe. To the uninitiated observer, Alan Pardew’s position is rapidly becoming less tenable and seems reminiscent of another former NUFC gaffer.
Graeme Souness was on the verge of the sack from Blackburn Rovers in August 2004, making it incomprehensible that Newcastle United’s walking public relations disaster and part-time chairman at the time, Freddie Shepherd, would opt to PAY the Lancashire club for the man’s services…
£1.65m later and with several lucrative contracts sorted for Souey’s entourage of soulless reptiles, well wishers and a-grade ‘yes’ man Dean Saunders, Newcastle United proudly presented their new set-up to the media.
The former Liverpool midfield terrier spoke in glowing terms about the Toon and how proud he was that his son would grow up with a Geordie accent. In reality he was probably just amazed that someone had once again been daft enough to employ him on a lucrative, long- term deal.
With one of Souness’ best friends being the radioactive looking Dale Winton, there’s no doubt that the fiery Scot could have got a gig on Supermarket sweep or something equally as testing of his remarkable post-athletic ‘talents’. That is of course if he didn’t get angry with Dale for hogging the spotlight and as a result launch into a two footed tackle on a shopping trolley, a la his retribution fuelled crunching tackle on Dwight Yorke during a Blackburn training session.
There wasn’t the same fanfare from the Tyneside crowd that was usually afforded to a newly appointed manager when Souness made his first appearance at SJP. Kevin Keegan and Sir Bobby Robson had been hailed as saviours, Kenny Dalglish was warmly received and the ‘locked wigs were out in force for Ruud Gullit.
Not this time though, although the home team spanked Souness’ previous club 3-0 on the day of his first match in charge (Souness was officially on ‘gardening leave’). Blackburn Rovers were a shambles that day and many onlookers wondered how badly they must have been managed to get into such a state.
Our new leader just sat in the stands beaming next to his son who wore a full Newcastle kit, perhaps hoping that it would speed up his transition from North West to North East twang.
Fans knew even then what the chairman apparently didn’t, until the last few weeks of the Souness tenure – this was an accident waiting to happen.
In my mind there is no doubt that Sir Bobby Robson had passed his sell by date long before he was unceremoniously kicked to the kerb. Not because he was a 71-year old man who forgot people’s names, he was doing that in his 50s as England manager (Once calling Bryan Robson ‘Bobby’ to which his captain replied: “No gaffer, you’re Bobby, I’m Bryan!”), but because ostensibly he no longer had control of the dressing room and had given his all but looked worn out.
With that in mind, Robson should have been told that his time was up at the end of the 2003-2004 campaign and could have gracefully moved on. Instead he was sacked just four games into a new season, the third consecutive Toon manager to be ousted on the fly, ensuring an unfitting conclusion to a fantastic tenure.
Despite all of the concerns over the new boss man, Souness started well and the club went ten games undefeated under his guidance. Some appeared prepared to accept him and still there remained an uneasy overall feeling of scepticism in the air of NE1.
Mark Hughes was installed at Blackburn and immediately commented on how unfit his players were and that he was appalled with the stories he had heard about the training sessions before he arrived. It was easy to take his remarks with a pinch of salt at the time, only later did they seem apt.
It was inevitably a matter of time before somebody upset Souness and perhaps no great shock that the person involved was the volatile Craig Bellamy, the club’s most in-form player and also the gobbiest.
If Dennis Wise could start a fight in an empty room, Bellers could probably start one in that same room whilst in a state of comatose during a deep meditation.
The veneered Welsh forward boasted to players that he would feign injury and refuse to play in a match, spitting feathers at being wasted on the wing rather than occupying his preferred role up front.
Souness reacted by leaving him out of the squad for a match at Highbury against Arsenal, later claiming he was willing to forgive and forget until the player did an interview with Sky Sports saying that his manager: “Went behind my back, right in front of my face.” Of course this showed two things – 1. Craig Bellamy isn’t necessarily the sharpest knife in the drawer and 2. Souness’ man management skills are appalling.
Bellers was packed off to Celtic on loan and in many ways that ended all excitement for the 2004-05 season.
The team now lacked creativity and pace. When Kieron Dyer’s old Hamstring/foot/liver/eyebrow injury predictably recurred, the team resorted to the futile plan of lumping the ball towards an ageing Alan Shearer, who was growing weary of playing regular FA Cup, league and European matches without a rest.
Enter Souness, realising that a creative spark was needed. Not content with one, he accrued three:
Jean Alain Boumsong, who provided as much defensive security as a narcoleptic doorman. He cost £8.5m!!! Hot on his heels was the great Amady Faye, who made David Batty look like Pele, and completing the holy trinity was Celestine Babayaro, arriving from Chelsea.
Out went talented players such as Olivier Bernard and of course that little scamp Bellamy, who ironically eventually ended up at Blackburn.
The team slumped to 14th in the league, injuries mounted up (As they had at Blackburn under Souness) and the only potential saving graces were the cups.
The FA cup always looked a long shot; we were drawn in the semi-final to face an in-form Manchester United. The UEFA cup was more likely to bring us hope of a first major trophy in 35 years, hope that was extinguished on one bitter afternoon at St James’ Park.
The 2nd of April, 2005, was one of the darkest days in Newcastle United’s history. Aston Villa visited a side that was unbeaten in nine games; they left with a 3-0 win against the EIGHT players that remained in black and white shirts at the final whistle.
Firstly Steven Taylor was sent off for a blatant goal line handball (Despite a hilarious impression of a dying swan) and then any hope we still had of salvaging our season evaporated into the overcast sky.
Lee Bowyer walked towards Kieron Dyer and started to throw punches at his colleague. Both players were shown red and thereafter criticised heavily in the media, but make no mistake, this was Bowyer’s fault and fans were quick to see that.
On that note, the potato faced one cap wonder was a terrible signing, Sir Bobby’s last, albeit a free transfer, whose presence ensured the sale of the far superior player/human being Nolberto Solano. Anyway, I digress.
Souness was made the fall guy in the media, not helped when his team meekly exited both the UEFA and FA Cup with a brace of 4-1 defeats to Sporting Lisbon and Manchester United in the same week. Now nothing was left to disguise the shortcomings of the manager in a miserable inaugural season on Tyneside.
A spending spree that saw, among others, the abhorrent Alberto Luque (£11.2m) and damaged Michael Owen (£16.8m) arrive in the summer, failed to improve fortunes under the moody Scot.
A 3-0 reverse against Joey Barton inspired Man City spelled the end, Shepherd revealing that when he saw two of his players running into each other and looking confused he knew it was time to chop Souey.
Hindsight is a great thing, but logic is a more valuable resource.. Every sign suggested that Blackburn were rotting under Souness’ leadership. Newcastle were the same and just as before he convinced by whitewashing the internal decay for a while.
Return to present day and Alan Pardew is at the helm, the rot has set in, sans spending spree. Surely a man of Mike Ashley’s business acumen won’t fear pulling the trigger in close season.
Like Shepherd before him, he’s a cold-blooded fat cat in the corporate world, hopefully unlike his predecessor, good timing proves a virtue when the inevitable parting occurs, although past indiscretions would suggest that’s little more than wishful thinking.
You can follow Dom on Twitter @KreamyDom
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