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Opinion

Sliding Doors moment for Alan Shearer – Would Mike Ashley have still owned Newcastle United?

4 weeks ago
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May 16th 2009, St James Park. A cross goes into the box and the crowd hold’s its breath for a microsecond. Then the roar.

Mark Viduka is wheeling away and the Gallowgate is going crazy. The place erupts.

Has the save our season call finally been answered? Is the big Aussie about to right himself into David Kelly-esque folklore?

However, one look at Howard Webb crushes the hope of entire city in an instance. He blows for a foul by Kevin Nolan on Mark Schwarzer, a very harsh call even in the modern era of near complete protection for goalkeepers.

Fulham hold out for a 1-0 and this keeps United in the bottom three with only one game of the season remaining. We all know what happened next.

In the dugout a club legend stands, reputation undiminished but clearly suffering as much as we all were. Our top flight status hung in the balance precariously.

It was a big decision that the referee got wrong, as Alan Shearer claimed after the game.

Of course, you could pick out any number of ‘what if’ moments from that season.

What if Gareth Barry’s shot didn’t hit Damien Duff the following week.

What if Titus Bramble hadn’t scored a last gasp equaliser for Wigan at SJP earlier in the season.

Maybe if Sebastien Bassong had not been suspended for that last game at Villa, things would have been different?

What if we had managed to avoid the drop in 2009? Would anything have changed? Would Mike Ashley still own the club? Well ‘yes probably’ would be most people’s answer to that.

In many ways our relegation could have been avoided, it was a self-inflicted destructive campaign involving four managers in five different reigns.

But also, it was the final hopeless act after six years of a downward spiral from being knocked out of the 2003-04 Champions League on a penalty shootout against Partizan Belgrade.

By the time the campaign was concluding and Big Al was in the hotseat, things looked desperate. Many have rewritten the situation in the intervening years to make Shearer’s spell look like one of the causes of demotion, in fact by the time he came in it was already too late.

We were in the bottom three, two points from safety, with games against title chasing Chelsea and Liverpool and another away at Spurs. In reality, the eight games presented only five realistic chances to take points.

The 3-1 victory over Middlesbrough on May 11th was a glimpse of what might have been. Yes it was Shearer’s only win so it would be selective to base his possible approach going forward on that game, but we did play very well that night.

What is often forgotten is that Newcastle actually went 1-0 down early on that night, to a Boro side in an even worse position than us. It would have been easy for Shearer’s side to lose control and their bottle. Instead they worked hard, got back in the match and produced one of the few good performances of that season.

It was capped off by Shearer making the key subs of Oba Martins and Peter Lovenkrands, who both scored to win us the game. Earlier in his reign he had brought Big Andy Carroll off the bench, to promptly net a crucial equaliser at Stoke.

It may have been merely the formative days of his management career but everything pointed towards Alan Shearer having a good feel for the direction of a match and what was required. Even in such a brief spell, excellent in-game management skills were displayed.

He was given the all but impossible task of rescuing an awful season. It actually spoke volumes about the character of our record goalscorer that he was willing to step into the situation, which of course was none of his own doing.

Just imagine how much credit Shearer would have banked if we had have gained that one extra point we needed. Not just from own fanbase, but from other clubs on the lookout for young British managers.

He would have taken a side languishing in the bottom three, who had only won twice since the turn of the year, and kept them up. At a time when most still saw Shearer’s long-term future in management (at Newcastle or elsewhere) this could have been the catalyst for an excellent coaching career needed.

It is certainly almost certain he would have been given the job permanently, although as ever with Mike Ashley no one really knows where the truth lies. Nevertheless, it is worth remembering that Wor Al was expected to stay.

In The Guardian newspaper’s report of his temporary appointment until the end of the season, Louise Taylor wrote “it seems highly unlikely that Shearer’s appointment will not turn out to be a longer-term deal.”

It is extremely difficult to envisage Alan Shearer would have been left in limbo if he had achieved the rescue mission, Ashley probably would have taken the club off the market and therefore be keen to make a decision one way or the other. The pressure from the fans to appoint Al would have increased also.

In reality, our fanbase entered a period of summer mourning and with the hierarchy still claiming they wanted to sell, everyone was left in a state of limbo. Shearer included.

So if we had maintained top flight status and appointed our record goalscorer, what form of rebuild would have taken place?

The team spirit that emerged under Hughton in the Championship may have still come to the fore. In his post-match interview after the Villa debacle Shearer states bluntly, that some players needed to go out, and new faces to come in. Certainly one player who would have had a very different next couple of seasons is Joey Barton, after his red card at Anfield in the 3-0 battering and subsequent bust-up with Shearer.

As ever under Ashley-era Newcastle, it is hard to imagine a self-destruct button would not have been pressed sooner rather than later, but maybe a summer with a clearer focus would have allowed some much needed soul searching at the club.

If Alan Shearer had support at board level he may have been tempted to have a proper long-term crack at management, instead of returning to the match of the day studio.

Then again, survival on the final day in 2015 hardly prompted major change – relegation coming 12 months on. It is hard to argue for certain that staying up in 2009 would have been any different.

You can follow the author on Twitter @JackLaceySport

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