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Opinion

New Newcastle United signing has failed the Michael Owen test

2 weeks ago
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Alan Shearer and Michael Owen are poles apart.

Not so much in terms of football ability, although Shearer is obviously the best striker and indeed player, of the Premier League era.

I was thinking more about integrity.

Often, if something happens in football, I ask myself, what would Alan Shearer have done?

For example, when certain players were misbehaving during lockdown, the likes of Kyle Walker and Jack Grealish, I’d wonder if Alan Shearer might have done something so unprofessional? Not a chance.

Shearer isn’t perfect but for me he summed up everything that a player should be, both on and off the pitch. Gave it his all for those that paid his wages.

The captain of England, he even cut that short just to ensure he could give as much as possible, as long as possible, to his club, Newcastle United.

When it comes to the money players get, nobody begrudged a penny Alan Shearer and those like him got / get, because he gave it everything in return.

Michael Owen was a very different case.

Arriving at St James Park in 2005, Newcastle fans experienced four years of a player on ridiculous wages (compared to what he gave back), who was always putting England first and Newcastle United…well, who knows, maybe a distant third after his racehorses.

What really did it for Newcastle fans though, was when Paul Ferris confirmed what we had all believed happened with Michael Owen in his final days at St James Park. With Newcastle United desperately fighting a relegation battle in 2009, as Newcastle captain(!!!), Ferris (who Alan Shearer had brought in as an assistant for the final eight games) said that Michael Owen said he wasn’t keen on playing in the final matches because if he got injured, it would affect his chances of getting the best possible club / deal when he left as a free agent.

Moving forward 15 years and speaking yesterday (Wednesday 9 September 2020), Newcastle’s new signing Ryan Fraser as reported by BBC Sport:

“Obviously I made the decision not to play [for Bournemouth after Premier League restart] and got battered for it.

“Everyone has got their opinions but, at the end of the day, I need to look after myself.

“My contract was done, so it’s not like I refused to play any games.

“Nobody saw this virus coming. If the virus didn’t come, I would have played every game under my contract.”

Ryan Fraser joined Bournemouth in 2013, has earned fortunes playing for them and became a Premier League level player, and claims he was ‘gutted’ when the Cherries were relegated.

When he signed on Monday (7 September), Ryan Fraser told NUFC TV:

“Last season was difficult…having a year left on my deal, not wanting to get injured and knowing what was on the horizon, it was really difficult.

“Now that I know where I’m going to be, and I want to be here, I think that’s just massive and I think everyone will see the best of me. I will do everything I can every week to be a professional and to give everything to be the best.

“Give all you can to the club, to the team, to yourself. 

“Every week, I’ll give everything I can. I won’t let anyone down.”

Back on 30 January 2020, Ryan Fraser admitted to BBC Radio Solent that he hadn’t been giving 100% to Bournemouth and promised to put that right:

“I felt bad about it, this last month I’ve been trying to put it right.

“I didn’t play for the team. I’m honest enough to admit that.

“I look back at it. I spoke to my family about it and it just looked bad on me. I didn’t help the team.

“All I can really say is that, for the next six months, I’ll give everything for the club,

“I’ve just talked about the last four months. That won’t be happening again. I can give everything, I can track back, I can try to get my assists and goals to help the club get to where it should be in the Premier League.

“I’ll fight for club, I’ll fight for the badge, I’ll fight for my team-mates, I’ll fight for the manager and fans.”

After saying he would give everything to Bournemouth on 30 January 2020, Ryan Fraser scored no goals and got only one assist. He ran his contract down so he could leave as a free agent and get the best possible wages at his next club (Newcastle United), refused to sign a short-term deal after Premier League restart and watched on as Bournemouth were relegated.

I really hope Ryan Fraser is a massive success at Newcastle United and I really hope he does indeed give his all to NUFC.

However, I think this has often been the same with other players in the past, when they cynically run their contracts down so they can leave as free agents and get far more money for themselves at their next club, their form massively deteriorates in the final year or so at the club they are leaving, then it is a huge struggle to then get out of that malaise when they do sign on as a free agent on enhanced wages / signing on fee at their new club.

Sadly, plenty other players have also done what Ryan Fraser did, cynically ran their contracts down and / or refused to sign a short-term contract after PL restart this summer.

They all say they have done nothing wrong and only looking after themselves but surely that is the whole point! They can’t have it both ways, you can’t claim to love the club that have paid you massive amounts of money for years and expect any respect off fans, whilst at the same time be putting earning extra cash over and above loyalty and doing the right thing.

Ryan Fraser has failed the Michael Owen test (or should that be he has passed it…?), he refused to do the right thing and instead prioritised more money for himself.

We can’t point out how disgracefully Michael Owen acted and then not accept that Ryan Fraser is no different. People will say it is just the way football is these days but that doesn’t mean anybody has to like it or accept it. It is a bit like how they want us to to say ‘simulation’ and not ‘cheating’, Maradona will never be a true great for me because of what he did in 1986, he was a clear ‘cheat’ and not a ‘simulator’ when cynically handling the ball that basically won the game for Argentina.

Due to the choices Ryan Fraser has made, they have led to him only scoring one Premier League goal in the past 17 months and playing absolutely no football for the last six months, nor having any pre-season with a club.

Newcastle United need these new signings to hit the ground running but whilst there is every chance Callum Wilson and Jamal Lewis could do so, having played regularly these past six months and had a proper pre-season with their respective clubs, with Ryan Fraser we may need to accept that it could take a lot longer.

The winger will not only need to get physically fit, it will also be a mental thing, trying to get back into that mindset which brought 14 assists and seven goals in 2018/19. After almost a year and a half that have brought only one goal and three assists as Fraser stepped off the gas and waited for his time at Bournemouth to run out, how quickly can you get back up to speed? If indeed you can ever recapture that form where mentally and physically you reached a perfect meeting of both. We saw it with many of that 2011/12 Newcastle team, when after Mike Ashley smashed any ideas of ambition and building / investing on top of that fifth place finish, we never ever really saw again the same form from any of those players, such as Coloccini, Krul, Cisse and others.

They say there is no such thing as a free lunch, maybe there is no such thing as a free footballer as well.

Once again I ask myself, what would Alan Shearer have done in Ryan Fraser’s position (or indeed Michael Owen’s)?

Well, I think we all know the answer to that one.

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