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An alternative reality – What if this had happened at Newcastle United back in 1997…?

3 weeks ago

The year is 1997 and Newcastle United are one of the biggest football clubs in the world, one of the richest, and known by many to be one of the most entertaining.

For the second season running, Newcastle have been pipped to the title by Manchester United. Could it be third time lucky?

During a summer in which local icons David Ginola and Peter Beardsley both left the club, it was certainly apparent that needs of the board to ‘break even’ (ahead of floating the club) was taking precedence over the team’s performance on the pitch. This was compounded by the sale of Les Ferdinand to Spurs.

However, with Alan Shearer fully fit and raring to go ahead of the World Cup at the end of the season, could he take the pressure and carry Newcastle to the title as well?

It would certainly appear so, with Shearer scoring an early season hat-trick in a friendly at Goodison Park (stay with me on this one, this is where the alternative reality is kicking in!).

With money brought in from outgoings, it was the arrivals that would be of interest at SJP.

Whilst names such as Temuri Ketsbaia, Jon Dahl Tomasson and Brian Pinas were bandied about in the press, Newcastle brought in Shay Given, Gustavo Poyet, Jimmy Flloyd Hasselbaink and young Frenchman Claude Makelele for a measly £3.8 million, after the latter rejected a free transfer to Marseille in favour of Champions League football at SJP.

They were shortly followed by veterans Stuart Pearce and John Barnes. Aware of his financial limitations, Kenny Dalglish briefly flirted with the idea of bringing Ian Rush or his son, Paul Dalglish, for extra fire power. In the end though, he had to settle for Paolo Di Canio, whose contract had recently expired at Celtic.

Despite a mooted big money move for Inter Milan’s Italian left back Alessandro Pistone, who was rumoured to have a price tag of £4.5 million, Newcastle held on to their own left back Robbie Elliott. Instead using a small percentage of the ‘Pistone money’ to bring in young striker Patrick Kluivert from Ajax for £1.5 million.

Newcastle made a decent start to the season, with Shearer firing on all cylinders. His new strike partner Hasselbaink proved to be an adequate replacement for Ferdinand, chipping in with a few goals of his own. With Tino Asprilla missing a hatful of Premier League games due to international commitments (we think) it was integral for Hasselbaink to make a good impact. Newcastle found themselves joint top of the league at Christmas, alongside Arsenal and Manchester United.

Tino did play a key role in the Champions League, scoring a hat-rick against Barcelona. Tino would also score a last minute winner away in Kiev, as Newcastle again won 3-2 to leapfrog ahead of Kiev and PSV to book a place in the knockout rounds.

With the need for cash to still apparent on Tyneside though, Asprilla departed in January for well over £6 million which did give United some room to reinvest in a playing squad that could continue a push for the title, Champions League and FA Cup.

United initially tried to bring in Andreas Andersson for £3.6 million from AC Milan – but he failed a medical and the deal fell through. After this, United turned their attention to winger, Trevor Sinclair for £2 million from QPR, after he turned down a last minute move to West Ham, whilst another young Dutch forward was brought in for £1.2 million in the form of Ruud Van Nistelrooy from Den Bosch.

With Shearer, Hasselbaink, Di Canio, Kluivert and young Van Nistelrooy (rather than Tomasson, Rush, Dalglish and Andersson)… United had a team fighting on all fronts.

Gary Speed and Andy Griffin were also added before controversy struck Newcastle’s season.

Board members Douglas Hall and Freddie Shepherd were filmed slagging off Alan Shearer and the local women of Tyneside. Both of them resigned, with Shepherd’s agreement to become chairman at the end of the season rescinded. Peter Kenyon, a director at Umbro, would later take up the helm.

Newcastle would go out of the Champions League in the knockout rounds at Juventus with two goals from Zinedine Zidane seeing off the Magpies.

Likewise, Newcastle United would fall just short in the league, finishing behind Arsenal, second for a third year in a row – although they would qualify for participation in next season’s Champions League.

However, it was to be a happy end to the season with Newcastle winning the FA Cup – in a 1-0 win over Arsenal. A second-half Alan Shearer strike that hit off the inside of the post, and bounced into the back of the net would give Newcastle United their first trophy in 30 years.

Dalglish would step down at the end of the season… replaced by Sir Bobby Robson, who brought along his assistant Jose Mourinho.

Things looked positive…

What could have been?

Alternative 1997/98 Newcastle United recruitment

Shay Given £1.5 million

Gus Poyet – FREE (Instead of Temuri Ketsbaia)

Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink £2.2 million (Instead of John Dahl Tomasson)

Stuart Pearce FREE

Patrick Kluivert £1.5 million (Instead of Alessandro Pistone, while holding on to Robbie Elliott)

Claude Makelele – FREE (Instead of Brian Pinas)

John Barnes FREE

Paolo Di Canio FREE (Instead of Ian Rush and Paul Dalglish)

Trevor Sinclair £2.3 million and Rudd Van Nistelrooy £1.3 million (Instead of Andreas Andersson)

Andy Griffin £1.2 million

Gary Speed £5.5 million

Robbie Savage £650,000 (Instead of Stephen Glass)

Nikos Dabizas £1.4 million

You can follow Jonathan on Twitter @jonnyinsg


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