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Opinion

The greatest ever Newcastle United (attacking) defender?

4 months ago
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“Philippe, Philippe Albert, everyone knows his name”

While writing these pieces about the greatest Newcastle 11 since the Premier League began, I thought it was important that the team channelled the spirit of Kevin Keegan’s Entertainers that came so close to winning the Premier League in 1995-96.

It was a team that was primed for attacking football, intent on scoring more goals than the opposition. Score if you dare they challenged. We’ll simply score more.

One of the key components of this team was Philippe Albert, a marauding centre half signed from Anderlecht in 1994 after an impressive World Cup and he forms the first part of what will be a back three in my team of eleven.

The £2.6 million transfer fee paid out by the club highlighted just how much Keegan rated the tall rangy Belgian who came with a reputation for offensive flair and he quickly became a firm favourite of the terraces. It wasn’t long before “Philippe, Philippe Albert” was being sung to the tune of Rupert the Bear.

During our first season in the Premier League, Newcastle had taken the league by storm, finishing in third place, but it was still considered something of a coup to secure his signature with rumours also linking Albert with a move to Juventus.

Despite his innate attacking instincts it does him something of a disservice not to recognise his defensive qualities. In the Premier League Albert would make 96 appearances for the team across five, sometimes injury interrupted, seasons. The team would keep a very respectable 28 clean sheets during that time.

His ability going forward would see him score eight goals and contribute five assists in that period.

The best of those eight goals and a moment that will live long in the memory of all Newcastle fans, was that chip against Manchester United.

Already 4-0 up in front of a jubilant St James Park, the fans revelling in the dismantling of the team that had crushed our Premier League dreams the season before, Albert picked up the ball just inside the opposition half. He takes one touch to bring it under control and another to bring it forward. His third was absolutely majestic.

Spotting the great Peter Schmeichel stranded on his penalty spot, Albert lofted the ball over the static great Dane and into the back of the net in front of a delirious Leazes end.

Recalling that goal to the Newcastle Evening Chronicle, Albert said:

“My lob, we’ll talk about it again in 50 years in Newcastle.

“It’s great because it was David Beckham’s great Man United, because there was Schmeichel in the goal, because there was a terrible rivalry and because we won 5-0.

“Two months earlier, they had suffocated us in the Charity Shield 4-0. We were coming back from a tour in Japan, we were nowhere, and they had laughed.

“On the day of 5-0, Keegan put the team on the board and said, ‘Guys, remember Wembley, nothing else’.”

Albert wasn’t the greatest defender but he was a key part of something very special and was a signing that set out what the philosophy of the team was going to be.

During his time at the club he was part of the squad that came so near to ending our long wait for a trophy as we finished runners up in the Premier League for two seasons in a row. He was also on the bench as we lost the FA Cup final to Arsenal in 1998.

At the end of his Newcastle career and his time in England, he was briefly reunited with Keegan at Fulham, making 13 appearances and scoring twice as the team romped to the second Division title. Newcastle, now under the management of Ruud Gullit, would sell him to Charleroi for £600,000 in 1999 seeing him return to Belgium, where he had won three league titles and two cups with Anderlect before moving to England.

Following his retirement ,Albert worked as a pundit for Belgian television alongside running a successful fruit and vegetable company.

Looking back on his time in the North-East Albert told The Chronicle that he thrived under the management of Keegan.

Keegan was like a father. He was always in contact with you, always nice. We had respect for the manager. He was very caring for every player. It is the best manager I’ve worked with by far. As a human person as well. Keegan in the North East is like a god.

“I was happy playing that way. That was the football I liked. When you can go forward sometimes and be dangerous for the other team, they didn’t know what to do.

“I thought we could be champions. We were still on top. When you’ve got players like Tino, Beardsley, Ferdinand, Ginola, Rob Lee, you don’t have to be scared.”

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