Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Countdown conundrum

Despite no longer having any connection to the club Fat Fred (remember him?) continues to be given airtime by the press. In his latest missive he has announced that Michael Owen's buy out clause (you know, the one for less than we paid for him, which Fat Fred said didn't exist) apparently expires at midnight tonight, and after that point England's Michael Owen is stuck in Newcastle until his contract expires or we decide to sell him.

If this is true, all well and good - at least the prospect of our losing a player for less than we paid diminishes slightly, although should we now choose to sell him, I doubt we'd get a great deal of money up front.

However, given Fat Fred's record on the subject of Michael Owen's contract, I think it probably best to take any comments with a pinch of salt.

Money problems

According to reports, it appears that Big Sam has already been forced to hold "clear the air" talks with Chris Mort following reports that Mike Ashley is lining up a Keegan/Shearer double act to take over the club, and also over the complete lack of anything resembling a sensible transfer kitty. The Guardian suggests that Sam's got a mere 10 million to spend on transfer fees and wages.

Of course, if the King of Bling eventually goes to Spurs, that should lighten the wage bill quite substantially, even if it doesn't bring in a massive amount of cash. (Although if we keep egging his house it isn't going to help the club attract any further players, or get the best price for Dyer.)

Of course, if the Guardian's Digger column is to be believed, it won't really matter what the present owner thinks for much longer, with suggestions that he's already looking for a buyer for the club. Keen fans of company acquisitions will tell you that this suggests Ashley failed to fully investigate the club books before he started buying shares (a bit like buying a house without any type of survey) - whether this is true or not, I'm not sure, but I can't see how he's going to make any money on the deal if he flogs the club so soon after buying it. Equally, the speculation that he's keen to sell, whilst also suggesting he's keen to change the management structure doesn't really tally up.

To cap it all, the Chronicle are now claiming that we're looking to sell Obafemi Martins in order to raise some cash to buy players. Whilst I can understand the imperative to bring in new players, surely we aren't in a position where we have to sell our top scorer last season and most marketable asset. Are we?

Thank you, and good night

With Shepherd gone, and Ashley taking the club off the stock-exchange the inevitable has happened, and excellent numbers based website nufc finances is being closed down.

I think we'd both like to give a quick nod of appreciation to Ian for his excellent work in making sense of the numbers coming out of the club, and drawing attention to the amount of cash Fat Fred and Dirty Doug really have been able to make out us over the last few years.

Excellent work for no cash reward - unlike those whose income he drew attention to.

The kids are all right The kids aren't all right

You've got to hand it to Fat Sam - he knows how to keep young players' feet firmly on the ground.

It was largely thanks to the efforts of young first team squad players and a smattering of reserves that we managed to defeat a strong Juventus side 2-0 at St James' Park yesterday. Albert Luque got his third in two pre-season friendlies before retiring injured (yes, another player bound for the treatment table...), and his replacement Andy Carroll sealed the win, scoring from a rebound.

But no sooner had the players felt the meaty slap of Allardyce's palm on their backs than he was playing down their achievement and claiming that "if we started the season with the same side that ended this match it would be a disaster".

In truth, I suppose, we all know we need reinforcements and fast, but could Fat Sam not perhaps have been a little more charitable to those who pulled off a good result? And in any case, given the lingering rumours of dissatisfaction among the new administration with his appointment, is he really wise to go publicly heaping more pressure on the board to produce the goods?

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Bigmouth strikes again*

Fair play to Niall Quinn. Having seen the pudgy back of Fat Fred, the Mackem muppet has realised the role of Embarrassingly Outspoken and Buffoonish Chairman for the North-East is up for grabs - and he's seized his chance to audition with both hands.

How else to explain the man who's just paid £5m for Michael Chopra - a player we flogged for a fifth of that last summer knowing he wouldn't make the Premiership grade - lambasting his fellow chairmen for the inflation of the transfer market?

One of the clubs Quinn singled out as being particularly culpable was Portsmouth, and Harry Redknapp has responded by telling him to keep his nose out and adding: "They offered the same money as we did for David Nugent. Have they got short memories or something?" Touche...

For the record, the Mackems have spent £17.5m so far this summer, with Kieron Richardson arguably their star signing. We, on the other hand, have spent less than half that - £8.7m - on four quality players, three of whom are Premiership proven and another who comes with considerable international experience...

Further additions to our squad are expected, of course, not least because the Celtic friendly saw us pick up another couple of injuries. Nicky Butt had to be replaced by Steve Harper, while Steven Taylor came off with a knock before the final whistle, leaving us with just ten men on the pitch as we'd made all our permitted substitutions.

Meanwhile, Kieron Dyer has reportedly set his heart on a move to Spurs, seemingly intent on following Jermaine Jenas' route out of the goldfish bowl.

We've got our newest bad boy to thank for something, though. According to today's Sun, Mikael Silvestre has spurned Fat Sam's advances because he refuses to play with Joey Barton after Barton's assault on his best friend Ousmane Dabo. We need defenders, yes, but Silvestre's shit so cheers Joey - every cloud etc. Though this silver lining has a cloud of its own, if you read to the bottom of the story: "Manchester United boss Alex Ferguson is keen to offload Silvestre and will try to persuade his star to have a change of heart. He has an ally in Dabo, who does not want his friend to blow the chance of a move to Newcastle because of Barton".

And finally, unforgiving Marca readers have voted Jonathan Woodgate the worst signing of the 21st century. A little premature, and also rather unfair - he may be overly acquainted with the treatment table, but he's a brilliant footballer and showed it in patches for both us and Real Madrid. He's certainly no Jean-Alain Boumsong or Eric Djemba-Djemba...

* And so soon after "That joke isn't funny anymore". What can I say? Smiths song titles are so handy...

Friday, July 27, 2007

Coming in from the cold?

Could Albert Luque, under Sam Allardyce, yet come in from the cold? If so, then good luck to him - two goals in a pre-season friendly, albeit against opposition of the calibre of Celtic, represents but a few short steps away from his recent residence at the North Pole, and he's got Michael Owen, Obafemi Martins, Mark Viduka and a fit-again Shola Ameobi ahead of him in the pecking order. At the moment, that is - in a couple of weeks' time, when the inevitable injuries have kicked in, we'll have a front pairing of Luque and Andy Carroll...

The match itself, which ended 4-1, seems to have been remarkably one-sided, particularly given the fact that the Scottish champions are in theory further on with the preparations than us. Aside from Luque's two first half efforts, there was a goal for Martins and another for James Milner, making his first pre-season appearance having played a big part in England's European U21 Championship campaign.

Meanwhile, Fat Sam has revealed that Kieron Dyer, left out of the squad for Celtic's visit to St James', may end up leaving the club for "family reasons". A surprise, that - I think we all suspected "footballing reasons" and / or "disciplinary reasons" would be cited first... Perhaps, though, being closer to his family in Ipswich may yet involve moving West Ham so he can hang out with his Cristal-swigging mates in the capital.

Allardyce has once again been moaning about the lack of movement in the transfer market, admitting that our inability to offer players European football is costing us and tactfully suggesting that our new chairman might like to get up to speed with the running of a football club as soon as possible: "Trying to get to where you want to get can be a little bit difficult sometimes, and I understand that because you’ve got to find everything out about the new business, but you can get frustrated from that point of view because it moves slower than you’d like. It’s Chris Mort I deal with now in the main, but he hasn’t had that much experience in football terms, so one would hope that now we’ll get even quicker".

One player - a defender! - we've been linked to repeatedly is Norwegian international Brede Hangeland, currently plying his trade in his home country for FC Copenhagen. Apparently, though, we face competition from Martin O'Neill's Villa for his signature - haven't they already got enough Scandinavian centre backs?!

And lastly, imagine my complete lack of surprise to discover that a gentleman by the name of Barton with Newcastle connections had been arrested on suspicion of stealing a limousine and "driving while unfit". After all, we know he's just done his metatarsal in so is both unfit and at a loose end. But no, I did young Master Joseph a grave disservice, for the alleged felon was in fact none other than Warren 'Centre Parting' Barton - aided and abetted by the equally whiter-than-white Robert Lee! What on earth is the world coming to?! Whatever happened to the daft little dressing room pranks they used to play on fellow goody-goodies Alan Shearer, John Beresford and Gary Speed? Just go back to Whoopee Cushions and flies in sugarcubes, lads, and stay out of trouble.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Revisionism and coincidence

With Chris Mort now settling in to the Chairman's office at Newcastle, it's interesting to see how the press have reacted to Fat Fred's departure. Michael Walker in The Guardian appears to summarise most of the national reports I've seen, noting that the departure of the Fat one isn't going to be met with any sadness on Tyneside.

Looking locally, Paul Gilder in the Journal seems keen to twist the knife, whilst over on The Evening Chronicle, Alan Oliver manages to extract some quotes from the fat has-been, and perhaps unsurprisingly spends his time sympathising with Shepherd and eulogising his achievements at Newcastle.

Now, I'm sorry Alan, but have we been following the same football club for the last 15 years?

I've got a great deal of respect for the work done under Sir John Hall, but to allow Fat Fred to say that he "always backed his managers" is bollocks. For every multi million pound signing (and I accept there have been quite a few) there have been times when the cupboard was bare and managers have been forced to sell before they could buy, or work on a shoestring budget (e.g. the sale of Steve Watson by Ruud , or the signing of Kevin Gallacher by Bobby.) During all that time, Fred kept banking his salary, and declaring a big fat dividend, so let's cut the crap and point out that the person Fat Fred has backed most of all during his time on the board has been Fat Fred.

Perhaps the most telling thing in all this is that, with the police having recently come calling at SJP investigating potential financial misdemeanours, the severing of Fat Fred's contract ends his association with the club immediately. Should further investigations be done, we can now happily seek to distance ourselves from the previous regime, and start building for the future with a clean slate.

Is it coincidence that he's gone so soon after the dawn raid, when previously he'd been expected to last until at least the end of the transfer window? What do you reckon?

Farewell Fatty

A momentous day in our club's recent history, one that we've known was coming for the best part of a couple of months: Fat Fred has vacated the chairman's office, to be replaced by Chris Mort.

Mort has thanked his predecessor "for all he has done for the club over the last 15 years". The new incumbent clearly has a lot to learn about the events of the last 15 years if he thinks we should be praising Shepherd to the heavens. We'd prefer to remember him as the author of today's Guardian Fiver has, "one of the most buffoonish blowhards ever to chair a Premiership club", before trying to forget he ever existed.

His departure begs the question, though: with Fat Fred and his motormouth gone, and Mike Ashley keen to keep a low profile, are our days of being embarrassed daily in the press a thing of the past? Spare a thought for the poor tabloids, eh?

Monday, July 23, 2007

That joke isn't funny anymore

Oh for fuck's sake. May as well start the season as it'll no doubt go on, I suppose. Barton went under the knife today, and is expected to be out for around six weeks, thus ruling him out of our opening fixtures. Does anyone remember the time before we'd ever heard of bloody metatarsals? Halcyon days...

Barton picked up his toeknack in a friendly against Carlisle at Brunton Park, a game in which we trailed 1-0 going into the last minute and only salvaged some pride thanks to a brilliant volleyed finish from Nobby Solano. Michael Owen didn't even start thanks to a thigh strain...

The old familiar injury curse might continue to plague us, but some things are changing. Nobby has revealed that Fat Sam's assessment of the players' fitness goes as far as monitoring their heart rate. A far cry from the days of Graeme Souness, no doubt. Nobby may have complained that this is proving to be "the hardest pre-season" he's experienced on Tyneside, but he's also eagerly taking notes: "I'll definitely keep a lot of these ideas for when I move into management".

Meanwhile, latest signing Geremi has spoken in glowing (and hopefully not ingenuous) terms about his decision to leave the Chelsea bench behind: "As soon as I heard that Newcastle were interested, I said yes straight away because it's such a big club. Newcastle United have always had huge ambition and amazing fans, a factor I have always appreciated whenever I have played at St James' Park".

Fat Sam's been thwarted in his recent attempts to bring in more new faces, moaning on Saturday that "unfortunately, everything this week progressed to a certain level and has fallen on stony ground". At least he's under no illusions about what's needed - "it is the most important thing for me to strengthen the squad we have at the moment, and particularly the defensive area" - and has expressed his hope that we might have another three or four players in by the time the season kicks off on 11th August.

One current member of the squad who may well not be part of it for much longer - at least if the papers are to be believed - is Kieron Dyer. West Ham might not be quite so enthusiastic about signing the Little Waster now that they've persuaded Freddie Ljungberg to move across London, but Spurs and Man City are both also being credited with an interest. Fat Sam has hardly dampened the speculation - quite the opposite, in fact, commenting with a wink and a nudge that "sometimes there is no smoke without fire" - suggesting he'd be happy for Dyer to move on. And we all know quite how fond Sven-Goran Eriksson is him, given his recurrent inclusion in England squads for no good reason whatsoever.

But I can't ignore my gut feeling that if an offer is forthcoming and we do decide to cash in, he'll butterfly into the player we've always known he could be and leave us looking a bit foolish...

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Deja entendu

Hats off to Guardian Fiver reader Daniel Jones for his letter about the star of our 3-1 win over Hartlepool last night:

"Interesting to hear Newcastle's new signing Joey Barton talking of his move as a 'fresh start'. A quick Google search reveals 1,240 articles on Joey making 'fresh starts'. Doesn't sound too promising for Big Sam, does it?"

We're off!

Confirmation came through today that Newcastle United PLC have been de-listed from the London Stock Exchange - and that Mike Ashley has now taken the club back into private ownership.

In terms of running the club, I'm not convinced how much difference this will make on a day to day basis - obviously we won't have to announce things to the city prior to them being confirmed in the press. The most obvious difference will be in the accessibility of information, with limited companies having to publicise far fewer details about their business. The move also protects Ashley's position, as it makes it virtually impossible for anyone to launch a hostile takeover.

Whether it improves things for Allardyce and the team remains to be seen.

On the playing side, the new Allardyce era got off to a winning start last night in a pre-season friendly with Hartlepool, with goals from Owen and two from Shola giving Newcastle a 3-1 victory. Reports of the game suggest that new boys Barton and Rozehnal both enjoyed tidy games, the former in particular really imposing himself in midfield.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Putting a brave face on it

Today's news is obviously dominated by this story, casting a big black cloud over the club, but let's see if we can't introduce a few rays of sunshine.

Well, James Milner's signed a new four year contract. A new deal on improved terms was his just desserts after a season during which he was our best and most consistent performer, but I do wonder whether he'll be such a fixture on the right hand flank this coming season if vying for the position with Geremi and Nobby Solano.

What else? Michael Owen has pledged his future to the club, though he's done so in not particularly enthusiastic terms - "I believe that these can be good times to be at Newcastle, which is why I am more than happy to be here" - and it remains to be seen whether his declaration was prompted by Fat Sam's word in his ear earlier in the summer or by the fact that no serious offers have been forthcoming since.

More good news? Well, the prospect of us signing Nice defender Rod Fanni is, for Paul and myself at least. No more scrabbling around in search of punsome headlines. Now all we need is for Fat Sam to get in there with a firm bid.

That's about where the positive news ends, though, unfortunately.

The Obafemi-Martins-to-Arsenal rumours resurfaced at the weekend, while I'm not exactly thrilled at the fact that Allardyce is sniffing around Fulham's ex-Smoggie whinger Frank Queudrue (not least because of the abysmal record of French players on Tyneside).

Argentinian midfielder and Beckham-knacker Aldo Duscher, available on a free from Deportivo La Coruna, won't be pulling on a black and white jersey this coming season, having come on trial and then been promptly told to do one for not being fit enough. Duscher's compatriot Gabriel Heinze, desperate to leave Man Utd because Taggart seems to rate Mikael Silvestre and Wes Brown more highly, is equally unlikely to pitch up at St James's despite our rumoured interest - are we really likely to outmuscle Real Madrid, Juventus and Liverpool?

Still, it's far from the most fanciful rumour doing the rounds over the past couple of days, the News of the World claiming yesterday that we'd enquired about Ronaldinho only to be told he'd cost us £58m...

And finally, for an insider's perspective on the rigours and madnesses of pre-season preparations, have a read of this post by former Toon, West Brom and Charlton striker Andy Hunt.

Plod come knocking

According to breaking reports, police have raided three football clubs as part of an investigation into alleged corruption in football.

Apparently this has nothing to do with Lord Stevens' report, and is instead linked to owner / shareholder matters.

Guess which club they've named so far...

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

A Month Of Saturdays: June 2007

(Once again seriously belated - apologies...)

Rejoice! For Fat Fred is at last on his way out!

June saw billionaire Mike Ashley win over an initially grumpy Shepherd and the rest of the board, steadily increasing his shareholding in the club until a takeover was inevitable. The club's now set to be delisted from the stock exchange any day now.

While we've hardly heard a peep out of Ashley, Fat Fred's had plenty to say - as usual. His volte-face - from effectively laying down a come-and-have-a-go-if-you-think-you're-hard-enough challenge to the upstart impertinent enough to threaten his control of the club to lauding Ashley and his company as "excellent custodians of Newcastle United's heritage" - was nothing short of remarkable. Did Fred realise he was fighting a battle he was doomed to lose and so reached an agreement so as avoid losing face? Or was it simply the likelier prospect of a fat wadge of money that made him change his tune and pretend to have forgotten all that hot air about the importance of the club having a Geordie chairman?

Though the other four board members have resigned, Shepherd continues to cling to a position of importance apparently at Ashley's request, to help ensure the transition period is as smooth as possible, but I doubt it'll be long before we really do see the back of him.

So, how will he be remembered by the fans?

As an arrogant, crass, tactless, brainless oaf, I imagine. The times during his reign that he's been opened his trap to damaging or at least embarrassing effect are too numerous to recount. The occasion he and Douglas Hall laughed at the gullibility of fans paying £50 for replica shirts and labelled Alan Shearer "Mary Poppins" and all Geordie women "dogs" was only an extreme example. I could also cite his 2004 declaration of having "no sympathy" with lower league clubs in financial difficulties and, most recently, his ill-advised comments about Michael Owen to passing Scousers, not to mention those cringeworthy references to the "Geordie nation" with which his blatherings have habitually been littered.

Shepherd's defence, trotted out at every opportunity, is that he's always put his money where his massive mouth is, always backing the managers he's appointed to the hilt. Except it's never really been his money, though, has it? It's been ours. (That may be one significant difference in the Ashley era.) And in return for that financial support Shepherd has increasingly expected to be involved in footballing as well as strictly boardroom matters. Graeme Souness, though no doubt looking around for someone else to blame for his own manifest failings, suggested how domineering and undermining that involvement was in some thinly-veiled comments in an interview with the Daily Mail: "You get people who come into the game and they are in it for five or six years, sometimes less, and all of a sudden they are experts. I am talking about owners and chairmen. They decide who comes and goes from your club, they are laying the policy down on so many issues".

So, what can we expect from the new man in charge? According to his deputy Chris Mort, the exact opposite: "He doesn't want to be the larger-than-life character sitting in the front row of the directors' box". If the days of being mocked for the buffoonery and egotism of our chairman are gone, then it won't be a moment too soon.

That's not to say that the future looks totally rosy - no doubt the publication of Lord Stevens' report into Premiership transfer dealings not only implicated former boss Souness in connection with four separate "uncleared" transfers (Emre, Albert Luque, Jean-Alain Boumsong and Amady Faye) but also the new incumbent Fat Sam. Whether there will be further repercussions remains to be seen, but personally the feeling that there's no smoke without fire persists.

June saw Allardyce make his first signings as Toon manager, picking up Aussie lardbucket and occasional goal machine Mark Viduka up on a handy free transfer and snapping up friend of the Greater Manchester Constabulary Joey Barton for £5.8m but only after a protracted wrangle over unpaid wages was resolved. Perhaps most significantly, though, we secured the services of a proven international defender in the form of David Rozehnal. More of his ilk need to follow.

With the rumour mill working at full crank, we were linked with everyone from Barcelona's Ludovic Giuly to Liverpool's Craig Bellamy - the latter rumour enough to drive Alan Shearer to drink - while Tal Ben Haim and Dutch U21 striker Maceo Rigters were among the ones that got away. It's to our credit that, despite silly money changing hands (£16.5m for Darren Bent?!!) in a market in which prices have been inflated particularly by West Ham running around like headless chickens looking to sign anything that moves, we haven't been sucked into paying over the odds for anyone yet - that's not to say it won't happen, though...

Scott Parker was one player Magnus Eggertson did manage to entice to Upton Park, our captain slinking off to East London for £7m having apparently felt hounded out by the incomprehensible abuse dished out to him by some fans towards the end of last season. Irish winger Alan O'Brien also left, but Nobby Solano and Tim Krul signed new deals, while we're waiting on tenterhooks to find out whether the club will offer Steven Taylor the contract England's best performer in the month's European U21 Championships feels he deserves.

Inevitably, the futures of strike duo Michael Owen and Obafemi Martins were the subject of ongoing speculation, not least because of Thierry Henry's departure for Barcelona (though Fat Sam can hardly come out and gripe about release clauses given the circumstances in which he signed Barton). The pair enjoyed contrasting fortunes in June, Owen scoring on international duty almost a year after that fateful World Cup match against Sweden while back in Nigeria Martins encountered some disgruntled countrymen seemingly intent on popping a cap or two in his ass.

One wonders whether Fat Sam would prefer being shot at to having to kick off the season at his old stomping ground, with Sammy Lee and a whole host of players eager to prove a point...

Chop's away again - this time to the Mackems?!

Around this time last year we were waving farewell to Michael Chopra. Despite apparently being offered a new short-term deal, the local lad once dubbed the new Michael Owen opted to join Cardiff City in a £500,000 deal. One goal-strewn season on and it looks as though he could be set to move back to the Premiership for ten times that fee - and with the Mackems.

The deal still isn't done, but Bluebirds boss Dave Jones seems resigned to losing his star striker, consoling himself with the thought of all the money he'll get in return: "The money could go on to make us stronger. This is good business for us and after all, we are in a business. And for Michael it means Premiership football - we cannot stop him. We wish him all the best with Sunderland".

As we said at the time, Chopra left us "having never really fulfilled his early potential". We had little doubt he'd be a hit in the Championship (particularly given his form during his loan spell at Watford), but he never quite cut it in the top flight - and I'm not sure much has changed in the last twelve months. And even if it has, is he really now worth ten times as much as we sold him for?

Of course, the fact that it's the Mackems who are poised to spunk all that cash on him is potentially hilarious - not to say "ironic" in the strictly football-pundit-not-acquainted-with-a-dictionary sense that he's most fondly remembered on Tyneside for his only Premiership goal, against the Great Unwashed, which hauled us back onto level terms barely 60 seconds after he'd stepped onto the pitch and which set us on the road to a famous 4-1 victory in what turned out to be Alan Shearer's last game for the club.

Not a lot else happening on the news front today. One of Portsmouth's two new forwards, the Nigerian John Utaka (the other being David Nugent), has claimed we were interested in him, along with Man Utd, while on the Guardian's Sport Blog Paul Doyle reckons we should be salivating like Mark Viduka in Greggs at the prospect of Deco checking in. Predictably enough, the ensuing comments thread consists mainly of opposition fans scoffing at the possibility - but it wouldn't be the first coup of this type that Allardyce has pulled off, and in the past he's done it with a less obviously attractive club. Of course, we shouldn't be under any illusions that Deco would be coming for the pay cheque (after all, starved of anything even remotely approaching success, that's how we've attracted most of our big names in recent seasons), but that wouldn't matter so long as we got our money's worth out of him.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Top Deco?

According to the usually reliable NUFC.com, Newcastle are closing in on Barcelona and Portugal star Deco.

I'll be honest, when rumours abounded that we were in Barcelona talking about players, it wasn't a huge surprise to see us linked to Eidur Gudjohnsen - a player who has struggled to establish himself at the Camp Nou, but who is clearly a very good player with proven Premiership quality. However, the issue with Gudjohnsen is one of need - assuming we keep all of our strikers, do we actually need the Icelandic international?

However, Deco is a whole different ball game.

This is a player who tends to play in midfield, but can also play off the striker(s).

The two questions which spring from this are: is this a return to the days of us buying a "star" rather than building a team, and if we do sign him, where are we going to play him?

I suspect that Allardyce is too canny to allow one player to distract him from the fact that we clearly need to sign further defensive cover. If we do sign Deco I'll be welcoming him with open arms (but then I said the same about Fat Pat, and countless others in the past...), but what we mustn't do is think that his arrival signifies the solution to our problems.

Also, does this mean we are likely to be playing 3-5-2 next season?

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Back-seat driver

In an interview with BBC's Look North this week, new deputy chairman Chris Mort gave us some idea of what kind of owner Mike Ashley is going to be.

"I think reclusive is the wrong word because that's not his character at all. But what Mike doesn't want to do is become a general celebrity ... He doesn't want to be the larger-than-life character sitting in the front row of the directors' box."

So he doesn't want to be Fat Fred, then? That suits us just fine.

Probably sensibly, Mort refused to give details of any timescales or targets - though interestingly what he said about Fat Sam wasn't anywhere nearly as enthusiastic as it could have been: "Sam’s a great appointment. He’s obviously not our appointment but we have no problems with the role that Sam has and we’re sticking with him". That makes it sound as though they feel lumbered with the decision of the previous administration. Could it be that he won't be given long to prove himself?

In the queue for Queudrue?

After the buzz of activity around St James' since the season finished, it's been a slow few days on the news front - hence the tumbleweed round here. So, what exactly IS happening?

Today's Daily Mirror claims we're duelling with Everton for the services of Fulham's former Smoggie Franck Queudrue. The brevity of the story suggests a serious lack of substance, though - it's no secret we're in search of a left back, Fat Sam having warned Celestine Babayaro he'd need to prove his worth. Sunderland have again been linked with a move for Wigan's England U21 international Leighton Baines - I say let's monitor the situation, and step in to scupper the Mackems' plans if it looks as though he might go for £5m or less.

Meanwhile, the Mirror has also suggested Spurs are after Ludovic Giuly, pushed further down the pecking order at Barcelona by the arrival of a certain T Henry, until recently himself resident in North London. I think we should maintain our interest in him, as he'd be a useful attacking option, though our track record with French players is not exactly good.

Good to see that loveable rogue and amateur golfer Craig Bellamy's time with his boyhood heroes Liverpool looks like lasting just a year, with the BBC reporting a £7.5m move to West Ham is practically done and dusted. It'll be interesting to see if one former Newcastle captain, Scott Parker, takes as kindly to young Master Bellamy as another did...

Monday, July 02, 2007


According to reports we've now completed our fourth signing of the summer, with former Smoggy and Chelsea man Geremi joining the club.

Undoubtedly a decent player, Geremi will add depth to the squad, and his additional height will, I suspect, see him installed as our first choice right back next season. With Milner on the wing, and Solano as cover for both positions, the move should nudge Stephen Carr closer to the door. (Although, given the size of his arse, perhaps that should be double doors.)

The signing again appears to represent a decent bit of business, with Allardyce steadily increasing the size of the squad, all the while adding proven quality players.

Obviously, there still needs to be further players coming in, and although the arrivals of Geremi and Rozehnal will bolster the squad, further defensive reinforcements remain a priority (not least a left back) and should any buy out clauses come into play, we'll probably need further striking cover as well.

Happily, Allardyce appears to be a fan of buying players early in the summer, rather than waiting until the end of August and hoping for the best - something which we've contrived to do, with very mixed results, for the last two years.