Wednesday, December 24, 2008

The waiting game

So the wait is over, kind of: Little Saint Mick's staying - for the time being.

The good news is that the man whose goals kept us up last season has "no intention of leaving Newcastle United in the January transfer window" and remains "committed to ensuring the club ends the season on a high" - which at the moment, mindful of how tight the bottom of the league is and knowing our own capacity for self-destruction, would probably be anything other than relegation.

The bad news is that he's not making any promises beyond that. The contract currently lying on the table will remain unsigned until then, and even then he may decide to walk out on a free transfer.

Is this non-committal commitment defensible? Will it be perceived among the fans as "positive, and not disloyal in any way", as he hopes?

On the one hand, he's right that, at 29, his next contract is an absolutely key one. Few would disagree that things haven't gone quite as planned since he signed on the dotted line in 2005, and little that's happened has actually been his fault. With the future of the club itself still uncertain, and Mike Ashley's chances of finding a buyer seemingly as remote as ever, it seems sensible and pragmatic from a personal perspective. At least we can count on him for the crucial next five months - injuries permitting, of course.

But on the other hand, as fans we're not so interested in what's right for Michael Owen. As unwelcome as it's been to have Fat Fred squeezing his oversized frame back into the limelight to claim that "Morally, he owes Newcastle another year", his comment will strike a chord with many a fan, and does so with me too, to an extent. We fought for compensation in the wake of his injury in the 2006 World Cup, and supported him through his long rehabilitation - and so walking out in the summer would I think be disloyal. As important as his predatory instincts have been (and will hopefully continue to be), he's certainly no Shay Given, who could have left on numerous occasions with our complete blessing for his sterling service but who has instead, no doubt always against his better judgement, decided to stay put.

Of course it might well be argued that signing an injury-prone player fast approaching his 30th birthday on a lucrative long-term deal is hardly a very astute move, so perhaps it might still be best for the club if Little Saint Mick rejects the contract in favour of a move to pastures new. I'm not convinced of this argument - Owen remains a valuable asset, and sourcing a new striker who has anything like an equivalent goals-per-games ratio will prove extremely costly, even in the current climate. Unless the Xisco Kid turns out to be the answer, that is...

Little Saint Mick's being rather naive if he's hoping his statement might put an end to the speculation - if anything, it'll now intensify, particularly towards the end of the season. But what's done is done, and now he has to get his head down to ensure we can still hold ours high come May.


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