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Top 10 Newcastle United Playmakers – This Top 5 completes the line up

5 days ago
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Who are the top 10 Newcastle United Playmakers?

In a new feature on The Mag, we are featuring a different NUFC Top 10 each day.

A bit of nostalgia, stimulate a bit of debate / argument.

This is the Top 10 Newcastle United Playmakers (Part Two – Countdown number 5-1).

We might all have different views of what a Playmaker is or does but we can probably all agree that for most of our NUFC supporting careers, our team haven’t had one that is anywhere near good enough.

My first attendance at SJP was on my fifth birthday, a 1-1 draw with Chelsea in 1973 and what follows is my top ten based on the following loose description. It is an Italian definition of a playmaker rather than a playactor, more in favour at the moment:

‘A playmaker is a player who controls the flow of the team’s offensive play and is often involved in passing moves which lead to goals, through their vision, technique, ball control, creativity, and passing ability.’

If we are watching a team which hasn’t got one of these, it isn’t going to be a lot of fun.

(The Top 10 Newcastle United Playmakers Part One – Countdown number 10-6 can be read HERE).

5) Robert Lee

Signed from boyhood team Charlton for £700K, Bobby Lee has to be one of NUFC’s best ever signings pound for pound.

He went on to play nearly four hundred times, on the right side of midfield at first, then infield as the sort of box-to-box midfielder that Steven Gerrard later perfected and then a holding player in SBR’s “blue-chip brigade” with Gary Speed.

From the moment Kevin Keegan prised Lee out of the Smoggies hands by telling him that Newcastle was closer to London than Middlesboro (it is certainly cleaner), he just looked class. In whichever position Lee played in, he created chances and scored all sorts of goals, from a 60 yarder inside his own half against Brentford (which was disallowed to give us a free kick), to his powerful header against Chelsea at Wembley in the FA Cup semi final.

Although not a natural playmaker in that he wasn’t blessed with the skill or creativity of some of the others in this list, it was when he moved into the middle of the park in United’s first PL season in 1993/94 that he became the driving force behind the team. For the next three or four seasons he was everywhere.

Scoring hat-tricks in the first fifteen minutes in European games, battling an entire Liverpool midfield and scoring a beauty in the same game, Lee became the heartbeat of the team. He might make a lot of these Top 10 lists on The Mag this summer but he makes this list because for the golden period of my NUFC supporting life, he drove us on. He was the one who controlled the flow.

Supposedly we have Gavin Peacock to thank for his signing. Peacock is rumoured to have told KK that Charlton had a player worth looking at. Peacock might have made this list himself on another day but as it is, I thank him for Robert Lee.

Robert Lee FA Cup Semi Final Goal CelebrationDeafening.

4) Paul Gascoigne

The best thing ever to come out of Gateshead.

Gazza left United in 1988 and went into the stratosphere. He remains one of England’s best ever players, one of England’s biggest ever stars and a very, very naughty boy.

An injury plagued career smothered in darkness means that his statistics don’t really match up to more professional players but when he was in-form and on the ball I can’t remember an English player who was more entertaining. He just brought the joy into football.

Our paths had already crossed when I watched him score twice as we lifted the FA Youth Cup at Watford in 1985 with about forty or so other United fans, so I knew he was going to be good.

It wasn’t until the next season under Willie McFaul that we saw the potential that would conquer the world, almost. Waddle had left but United had a team full of experience and characters, Gazza just ran around the pitch like a chubby puppy surrounded by old Labradors. He annoyed them, but they loved him, he put an extra spring in their step. McFaul gave him licence to do what he liked, presumably, maybe he just did what he liked anyway.

At one home game, Sheffield Wednesday I think, we were 3-1 up and Gazza went round the keeper leaving him on the deck and ran towards the empty goal. Instead of knocking it in, he dribbled back into the middle of the penalty area and had another go at going round the keeper. The Wednesday keeper absolutely lost it and chased Gazza for about a minute until calm was restored. Absolute genius.

In the end the gap between how good he was and how good the club was, it became too great and he left for a couple of million to Spurs. He played 104 games in black and white and scored 25 goals. Chairman Stan Seymour said he was “George Best without brains” but that’s not fair, his brains were just full of football.

After leaving United he continued to be as colourful and as dark in equal measure. From Vinnie Jones squeezing his nuts to fried chickens and fishing rods, Gazza has been Gazza. But on his day what an unbelievably talented footballer he was. A true entertainer.

Paul GascoigneHis best team, his worst haircut.

The anti-playmakers. The worst five offenders:

Stephen Ireland:

At a time when United had very few skilful players, Ireland arrived on loan from Man City with a big reputation and some great performances under his belt. He left with his trousers round his ankles a few months later. He obviously couldn’t be bothered, the most we saw him was when him and Leon Best were doing a bit of topless clubbing the night before a game.

Alan Smith:

Rarely has any player at SJP played as consistently anonymously. He was a great player with Leeds as an attacking force but by the time he was in Toon had forgotten which way was forward. He was at NUFC for five years and I can only remember him touching the ball once, a penalty at Fulham. I can’t even remember him being on the pitch during that game before the penalty.

Scott Parker:

Undoubtedly a very good defensive player, Scott(y) was exceptionally gifted at slowing down any of United’s attacks by pirouetting relentlessly every time he got the ball until the opposition had recovered their shape.

Titus Bramble:

In a league Cup defeat to WBA in 2003, Titus played a sixty-yard Crossfield ball perfectly to Nobby Solano on the right wing. It was brilliant. Over his NUFC career he tried it another 463 times and every time it went into the stand.

Dave Beasant:

Having sold Gazza in the summer 1988, Willie McFaul rebuilt the United side with the money. In goal was 750k keeper Dave Beasant who could kick the ball from one end of the pitch, above the clouds and into the opposition penalty area. Up front was five foot five striker Mirandinha and five foot six striker John Robertson. Hoofing the ball from keeper to strikers was our new attacking plan. We got relegated.

3) Yohan Cabaye:

Bought from Lille for about £4million as part of Mike Ashley and Graeme Carr’s Secret Squirrel recruitment Francais, Cabaye quickly became the leader of the North East French resistance.

A good thing, as a top-class player he bossed a United charge to the cusp of the Champions League in 2012. A bad thing in that all of our French players needed no excuse to act like gits and Cabaye was pretty good at that too.

Cabaye was an absolute playmaker. He had great control, excellent passing ability, was positionally exceptional, ran all day and could score goals from set-pieces and open play. He stood like a boulder alongside the rock which was Cheick Tiote in front of United’s defence, when any of his team-mates had the ball, they could always find Cabaye in space within ten yards of them and Yohan started the attack. He was the archetypal ‘quarterback’, fit enough to always be near the action, clever enough to always find the right option with a pass.

He had a few glorious moments away from home but his finest performance was in a 3-0 win over Manyoo at SJP. It wasn’t just the superb free kick he scored to put us two up but the way him and Tiote dominated the Manc team and bullied them into submission. I can remember by the end, the reds refused to go anywhere near them, you could see the fear in their eyes. Even Rooney just didn’t fancy it.

It all went south quickly for Cabaye and United. The Frenchman was injured fairly early in the next season, Ba departed in January and a UEFA Cup run dominated the season and decimated an injury-prone squad in the league.

Cabaye always played well but United’s lack of real depth and a terminal lack of ambition meant that when an Arsenal bid came in just after the start of the 2013-14 season Cabaye wanted to be away. United said no, Cabaye may or not have refused to play and was banished to the stands. He returned soon after but the damage was done and Yohan left for PSG in January 2014.

His transfer lost NUFC not only a top-class player but also left Cheick Tiote with no one to pass too and he was a shadow of his former self after Cabaye had gone. As were the team, the heart had been ripped out of it, even if it did at least rid us of Joe Kinnear as Director of Football who had supposedly not rang every last Euro out of the French Champions for our player.

Cabaye left after 93 games, scoring 18 goals and driving the team on with a passion, exuberance and quality rarely seen on Tyneside. I knew how good he was because when he left, a good team went bad immediately.

Yohan CabayeLe boss.

2) Lee Clark:

Lee Clark came through the Academy during the second golden period of youngsters in a decade, alongside the likes of Steve Howey, Steve Watson and Robbie Elliott. Though Clarkie made his debut under Jim Smith he was never going to get anywhere amongst the old has-beens assembled by the Bald Eagle and it wasn’t until Ossie Ardiles took over in 1991 that Clark found his feet.

It was slippery ground at first, the young team were all over the place but that didn’t stop moments of beauty shining through. In a fortnight I watched the team lose 3-2 at Tranmere, win 4-3 at Crewe and draw 6-6 at Tranmere in the cup. Clark was always at the heart of it and It was great entertainment. Sometimes.

When Ardiles left and KK took over, Clark was the only one of the youngsters who immediately retained his place. There was no question he was a talent. His non-stop movement meant that he covered every blade of grass on the pitch game in game out. He wasn’t quick, which meant the way he ran made him even more obvious, he wasn’t given the nickname ‘Nash’ for nothing. He had great control as well, rarely lost the ball and his quick passing and movement made him essential for both starting attacks inside our half and finishing them inside the opposition penalty area. Not that he did that enough, one of his other nicknames was ‘jigsaw’ because he always went to pieces in the box, 24 goals in 265 games was a return he could have improved on.

He was a massively underrated player for NUFC by every manager he played under. He eventually moved in 1997 after first KK replaced him with David Batty and then Kenny Daglish cashed in on his talent. He came back later and played, then coached, under Glenn Roeder but he was a player who should never have left.

He should still be there now, at the very least teaching the young ‘uns what it means to play for NUFC, something written on his face every time he went onto the pitch. Unfortunately for the Wallsend lad, he was as underrated internationally. He made only one appearance in an England squad, his path blocked for club and country by Beardsley, Lee and Batty, along with Gazza’s renaissance and anyone who played for Man United. He was simply a top class, all action ball player. The Geordie Xavi.

Lee ClarkLee Clark who made this list. And Albert Luque, who didn’t.

1) Peter Beardsley

For many, he is United’s greatest ever player.

His tireless effort and selfless team play alone endeared him to us. The fact that he was one of the most skilful players ever seen on Tyneside made him even more of a star. And then there were the goals. He scored a lot of them and some of them were breathtaking. He was a leader and captain by example on and off the field, he was quiet but always had time for the supporters of which he was one, happy to deflect the adulation onto others who wanted it more and if any NUFC player deserved to lift a trophy, it was him. He played 324 games for us, scoring 119 goals.

Like many other Tyneside superstars, he slipped through the net and was playing in Canada when Arthur Cox signed him for £150K in September 1983 and he quickly formed a destructive partnership with Keegan and Waddle which led to 65 goals between the three of them in the 1983-84 promotion season.

Waddle and Keegan scored some great ones, but Beardsley’s against Portsmouth away and Brighton at home were breathtaking, his hat-trick against fellow promotion hopefuls Manchester City equally brilliant.

He played for a further three seasons for United in the top division, quietly going about his business as NUFC did what they do best, keeping their noses above water in a sometimes magical but always shambolic way. By now he was an integral part of the England team and was always destined for greater things, he moved to Liverpool for £1.9million in the summer of 1987 and won everything.

Most of us thought that was the last we had seen of Peter Beardsley but former teammate Keegan had other ideas. He brought Peera back in the summer of 1993 as the Toon embarked on a return to the PL. Apart from a ‘collision’ with Neil Ruddock’s elbow his first season was a triumphant return. He led the team on the pitch, was a great role model for the young Geordies in the team and a scorer of spectacular goals.

If NUFC were the English Barcelona, then Beardsley was our Messi. He would be number 1 on this list for the 1993-94 season alone. United’s tactic was simple. Get the ball to Beardsley and he would either score or put Andy Cole through on goal. If the opposition dropped deep to nullify Cole’s pace, Beardsley exploited the pace and ran at them. If they tried to mark Beardsley, well he was just too quick over that first two yards, too football clever completely and far too skilful for anyone to do it for 90 minutes and it to be successful. If football is about finding and using the space (which it is), Peter was the master.

When Cole left, Beardsley found himself in a slightly different team and eventually with such good players that he was no longer a lone star shining. He forged just as good a relationship with Sir Les as he had with Cole, when Shearer came he dropped into midfield and was just as good there, always working his socks off for the team. United finished second two seasons on the trot, denying Beardsley the winners medal he deserved and he always looked quietly devastated at that, he wore his emotions on his sleeve in a more understated way but they were always there.

It was the same for England…no coincidence that both NUFC and England’s best teams in my lifetime have included Peter Beardsley.

Peter BeardsleyThe best NUFC playmaker.

(Previously in these featured NUFC Top 10s – You can go back and see the Top 10 Disappointments, Playmakers (Part One – 10-6), Right-Backs, Centre-Backs, Goalkeepers, Goals and Strikers)

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