The man who was starting point for these 12 years of hurt at Newcastle United
Sir Bobby Robson was sacked from his managerial role at Newcastle United on 30th August 2004, following a run of bad results.
The previous season Newcastle came 5th in the league and made it to the semi-finals of the UEFA Cup, but chairman Freddy Shepherd, owing to the allegations of dressing room disgruntlement, concluded that Sir Bobby Robson could not take the team any further.
After two weeks of uncertainty, a surprise addition was appointed as manager of Newcastle United, it was ex Rangers and Liverpool man, Graeme Souness.
The Scotsman left his job at Blackburn Rovers, a job where he won the League Cup, gained promotion and claimed a singular top-six finish in the space of four years. Previous to the Rovers job, Souness had won the FA Cup with Liverpool, the Turkish Cup and Turkish Super Cup with Galatasaray, alongside multiple Premier titles and cups with his boyhood club Glasgow Rangers.
While many fans were unhappy with the appointment, the media took a different angle, stating that he was the prime candidate to resolve the behavioural problems among a select few players.
Following Robson’s departure Newcastle United were still strong, with budding English stars and top European talent such as the dazzling French winger Laurent Robert, Magpie legend Alan Shearer and speedster Craig Bellamy.
Graeme Souness made use of the talented squad on offer and initially put Newcastle through an impressive 10 game unbeaten run. However, form started to decline and at the same time, questions started to be asked in regards to his ruthless conduct with the players.
The performances were underwhelming. Souness took charge of the dire situation by sending the Welshman, Craig Bellamy out on loan on the basis that he didn’t get along with him. As a man appointed for his shrewdness in dealing with squabbles, the forgery of Souness’ man-managing ability soon became abundantly clear.
With Bellamy gone and Alan Shearer injured, the team was in desperate need of a consistent goal –scoring striker. So, in January 2004, Souness brought in three defensive players: Jean-Alain Boumsong, from his old club Rangers under extremely dicey terms, midfielder Amdy Faye from Portsmouth and Celestine Babayaro from Chelsea.
Another good run of form in February and March was swiftly halted in April with a particular focal point being by the now infamous on-field brawl between Toon midfielders Lee Bowyer and Kieron Dyer. An awkward press conference then followed, with the two players apologising for the ‘embarrassment they caused the club’. They posed for pictures with the press, shaking hands and smiling.
In actuality the rift was far from over, and it was revealed that the mediator that is Graeme Souness even offered to fight them both after their on the field clash.
The event signified clearly that Souness only exacerbated any social-dysfunction in the dressing room. And when Newcastle finished in a shocking 14th spot, both the fans and media truly started to turn on him.
But not Freddy Shepherd, the astonishing nine place drop down the table somehow did not affect his high expectations of Souness.
And so the Scotsman begun a new season with the Magpies, much to the disdain of many fans. Souness brought in fresh faces such as: Aussie Craig Moore, Dutch keeper Tim Krul, the Turkish midfielder Emre, Spanish forward Albert Luque (another dodgy purchase which came up in the Stevens inquiry), and Real Madrid’s Michael Owen for a Newcastle record breaking £17m.
Craig Bellamy came back from his loan with Celtic only to be transferred to Souness’ old club Blackburn Rovers. The decision by Souness soon came back to haunt him, as his two new strikers were not delivering the goods their price tag promised – golden boy Michael Owen broke his metatarsal bone in his foot and Albert Luque may as well have been out injured also.
By February former title-challenging team, Newcastle United, were hovering just above the relegation zone in 15th place, despite the 50 million pound spending spree by Souness.
After a 3-0 defeat to northern rivals Manchester City, Graeme Souness was finally relieved of his post by Freddy Shepherd and Newcastle’s Youth Academy Director Glenn Roeder took charge.
In 2008, The Observer Sport Monthly called Graeme Souness ‘worst manager ever’ for his tenure at both Liverpool and Newcastle.
Newcastle United fans will mostly know him as the man who took their club from a title-challenging side into a relegation-bound team. His own arrogance and pride resulted in Newcastle’s rapid and painful demise.
He was the starting point for twelve years of hurt for the Magpies, and that will never be forgotten.
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