Thursday, July 31, 2008

Turking the piss

I nearly forgot about this...

When I was in Vienna in the middle of July, I saw there was a football exhibition taking place in the city. The outside of the building was covered with the names of some of the legendary players. As far as I could see, there was only one Newcastle past or present listed. Not Alan Shearer, not Jackie Milburn, not Supermac, not George Robledo, not Michael Owen. See if you can spot him...

Found him?

Bizarre to put him in the same rarefied company as the likes of Franz Beckenbauer, Ferenc Puskas and George Best, but at least he's more deserving of his place there than Rigobert Song...

Monday, July 28, 2008

Six days is a long time in football - but still not long enough for us to sign a quality defender, it seems

Six days without a post? You must excuse us. How's about I make it up to you with a news splurge? OK then, here goes...

Inevitably, the day's big story is Porridge's release from the Big House, having served two months of his six month sentence for assault and affray. Sadly, the player now once again known round these parts as ASBO is heading back to Tyneside with his clear plastic HM Prisons bag, Kevin Keegan having vowed "to give him another chance and back him". Sorry Kev, but I'm hoping Mike Ashley feels differently.

A good thing ASBO wasn't available for the weekend's pre-season match at Doncaster Rovers, having been responsible for stirring things up with a characteristically, er, robust tackle when his Man City side played them in a 2004 "friendly". The "angry" City manager on that occasion, who said "I have a problem with any player who just wants to go out and be physical all the time. There is no future in that"? One Kevin Keegan...

Without ASBO for Saturday's game, inevitably, there was no fight at all, particularly up front (where Alan Smith and Shola Ameobi, lining up opposite his brother Tomi, wandered about to no effect whatsoever), and we were sunk by a late goal by Stuart Elliott. That defensive triallist Sebastien Bassong looked half-decent was more a reflection on what he was surrounded by than by his own qualities.

One player who missed out on an appearance at the Keepmoat Stadium for reasons other than injury, imprisonment or registration issues (Gutierrez, again) was Obafemi Martins, who's back in Nigeria following the death of his mother. Understandably, Keegan's given him as long as he needs away.

Back at home, negotiations are continuing with his strike partner Michael Owen - as are the mind games. Clearly desperate for him to stay, Keegan has insisted he'll be club captain for the forthcoming season, and gently put pressure on him to commit: "I know he wants to stay and know we want to keep him, they are two things in our favour". Personally I'm of the view that it might be more complicated than that (as is suggested by the protracted nature of the negotiations) - unlike Shearer, Little Saint Mick won't have his judgement clouded by sentiment and won't be prepared to take the significant pay cut that's been rumoured. Whether anyone else would come in for him is uncertain, though - Arsenal, perhaps, or Spurs, who now have £20m of Liverpool's money and a Robbie Keane sized hole to fill.

Today's transfer rumours have seen us linked with Real Madrid's former Arsenal loanee, burly Brazilian striker Julio Baptista, in the Torygraph and with Blackburn's ex-Liverpool left back Stephen Warnock in the Independent (a deal involving Damien Duff going the other way, that one).

Still no official word that we've signed Plymouth's 15-year-old prospect Aaron Spear, and with Arsenal sniffing around that gives some cause for concern. Securing Spear's services would be a clear indication that new Academy director Richard Money's recent quotes about ensuring "we get the best young players we can get, and we will continue to recruit from around Europe and around the country" aren't just empty promises. Spear's English, at least, though not from the local area, and "getting Newcastle people in the Newcastle team has to be our number one goal". It's almost as if he read the last Month Of Saturdays...

Meanwhile, our old friend Nobby Solano is reportedly at the centre of a tug-of-war between Ruud Gullit (manager of LA Galaxy) and Temuri Ketsbaia (manager of Anorthosis Famagusta). More surprisingly, that waste-of-space Celestine Babayaro - a Souness signing, of course - is also in demand, enjoying trials with Portsmouth. 'Appy 'Arry may be complaining his squad's too small, but surely he's not that desperate?

And finally, in one of those rare moments of perfect synergie, El-Hadji Diouf - the only person to come close to rivalling ASBO for the title of Most Loathsome Player In The Premier League - has signed for the Most Loathsome Team In The Premier League (at least until next May, whereafter they'll be the Most Loathsome Team In The Championship). As if he wasn't guaranteed a warm reception at St James's Park already...

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

"No disrespect, but..."

We may be struggling to attract the players we want, but it's nice to see that the appeal of moving to Sunderland remains as strong as ever, with the agent of Spurs central defender Younes Kaboul quoted as saying: "Younes wouldn't join Sunderland even if there was an earthquake". (Which, incidentally, would do a couple of million pounds of improvement. Oh yes, the old ones are the best.)

And Rudy Raba wasn't finished there, either: "We have more interesting options than Sunderland. I can tell you for sure that he's going to stay in England next season and, at Portsmouth, you are more watched. No disrespect, but playing at Sunderland would not help his international career". Disrespect away, Rudy...

Hopefully one of those "more interesting options" isn't us - the last thing our defence needs is a big-money flop whose haplessness helped land Spurs in the relegation places early last season.

No reign in Spain for Fatty

Fat Fred must be wishing he'd laid off the lard. He huffed and puffed but seems to have been beaten in the race to buy Real Mallorca by a man nicknamed 'The Plumber'. While Fatty's out of breath, fans of the Spanish side - the hosts of the pre-season tournament we're competing in next month - will be breathing a sigh of relief that he won't be getting his pudgy mitts on their club.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Look who's back

Apparently, yesterday some chap called Damien Duff put in a devastating shift in a pre-season friendly match against Hartlepool, scoring a hat-trick in a 4-1 win. Anyone know anything about him? Certainly can't remember a winger in black and white called Damien taking on his man and finding the back of the net...

In his post-match interview King Kev said he's fully fit for the first pre-season in four years, and has got his weight down to what it was as a teenager. Credit to Duff for knuckling down - there's nothing like the pressure of having James Milner, Charles N'Zogbia and new man Jonas Guttierez breathing down your neck, it seems.

Mention must also be made of Danny Guthrie, who within eight minutes of coming on for Jose Enrique at half-time, had set up Duff's second and scored the third himself (albeit with the help of a deflection and some charitable goalkeeping). Before we get too excited, though, we'd do well to remember who also scored on his debut last pre-season...

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Pablo honey

According to today's rumour mill, the next person t be joining the St James Park express will be Pablo Aimar from Real Zaragoza. Aimar is an attacking midfielder, who would hopefully provide us with some creativity in our solid but otherwise unspectacular midfield.

One other rumour doing the rounds is that we've apparently failed in our quest to "bolster" our defence by signing Anton Ferdinand from West Ham. Needless to say, our failure to add the parrot faced idiot's parrot faced brother to our ranks is unlikely to see too many tears running down anyone's face on Tyneside (except possibly with relief).

Seriously, does anyone think Ferdinand jnr would significantly improve our defence?

On the subject of defenders, we've apparently been joined by Sebastien Bassong from our old chums FC Metz on trial, following the French team's recent relegation from Ligue 1. According to wikipedia he's a left footed defender who is better at centre half than full back.

Neither of whom would appear to be the commanding experienced centre half we've needed since Woodgate went to Madrid.

Friday, July 11, 2008

On the move

A warm welcome to Danny Guthrie, our new signing from Liverpool. There are essentially two schools of thought on his arrival.

1. How exactly is a midfielder of limited talent who couldn't be sure of a regular starting place for Bolton going to improve the squad?

2. Given the number of expensive foreign flops we've squandered our money on in recent years, recruiting a young hard-working Englishman for what's rumoured to be a reasonable fee of £2m could prove to be a shrewd move.

I'm currently torn between the two, but am making a point of reminding myself of my reaction when Antoine Sibierski signed two years ago - look how that turned out...

Staying put

So, despite thinking he could weasel his way out of it, Joey Barton's got another month of porridge to look forward to. Excuse the Daily Mail moment, but surely someone can lose the key?

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Quote of the day

"I think I'll start with people from Newcastle, not in some cave in Afghanistan."

Mike Ashley, conceding he'd be interested in hearing from potential partners prepared to invest in the club, has a pop at recent media rumour-mongering.

Though if you're honest, Mike, Bin Laden's managed to hide himself away without trace for years now - is he really likely to be tempted out of hiding by the prospect of involving himself in the affairs of a football club that continually shuttles back and forth between crisis and disaster? If we were Arsenal, things might be different...

Monday, July 07, 2008

Friends reunited?

Interesting to note that Derek Fazackerley has left his position as first team coach at Man City by mutual consent. With the new man in charge Mark Hughes busy installing his own backroom team, Faz was surplus to requirements at Eastlands and, as the BBC report not-so-subtly suggests, is now bound to be linked with a return to St James's Park and a reunion with old pals Kevin Keegan and Terry McDermott.

If he does pitch up on Tyneside to work on our defence, one player he'll be coaching will be Steven Taylor. After months of wrangling (and some slightly foolish comments in the press, mainly from his agent dad), the youngster has at last put pen to paper on a three year deal. Now that his future's settled, the club having shown significant faith in him, Taylor needs to knuckle down and work hard at moving up to the next level - which, in his case, means greater composure and playing with his head as well as his heart.

Of course, I'm duty bound to say something about the rumours that the bin Laden family's construction company is preparing a £300m bid for the club. Well, unlike Fat Fred, as chairman Osama bin Laden could at least be guaranteed to keep a low profile...

Thursday, July 03, 2008

A Month Of Saturdays: June 2008

Graham Fenton.

Yes, there, I said it - the name that still makes grown men weep on Tyneside.

8th April 1996, and our bid for the Premiership title is floundering as a result of both our own failings and Man Utd's machine-like procession of victories. Stan Collymore's injury-time winner in the first and most crucial of those two 4-3 Anfield defeats five days earlier has left us reeling. Just the time we would want to have to face champions Blackburn on their own turf.

And yet, against the odds and with four minutes to go, we have a lifeline - a rare-as-hen's-teeth David Batty goal, against his former club, has us edging towards a vital three points.

Enter Fenton. Introduced from the Blackburn bench just 15 minutes earlier, he first sneaks in to force home an equaliser - and then, as if that wasn't bad enough, grabs an even more devastatingly soul-destroying last-minute winner. It's a knockout blow from which our title bid never recovers.

Why, you may ask, am I dredging up painful memories? Well, there is a point, and that point is that Graham Fenton was a Geordie.

What's rather less well remembered about that fateful night is that another Geordie had a significant part in both goals: Alan Shearer. (Perhaps his move to Tyneside three months later was partly motivated by guilt?) That would be the same Alan Shearer we once took on trial as a 15-year-old, only to try him out in between the sticks...

Little wonder, then, that the Independent's match report the following morning began: "It was as good an argument as any for Sir John Hall's planned youth development centre on Tyneside."

Which brings me to the real subject in hand, arguably the most significant development of a second successive quiet month at St James's Park: the appointment of Richard Money as our new Academy director.

The Academy is the "youth development centre" Hall envisaged all right, set up with the intention of catching local talents like Shearer, Michael Carrick and Steve Stone before they're poached by outsiders - but it can hardly be said to have borne much fruit. With Peter Ramage having already left this summer to find his level at QPR and Shola Ameobi edging ever closer to the exit door (even though the identity of his next employers remains uncertain), currently the only homegrown player in the side is Steven Taylor, and there's a chance even he might possibly leave if a new contract isn't thrashed out soon.

As the situations with Ramage and Ameobi indicate, the problem is essentially one of quality rather than quantity. Too many players come up through the ranks, from Academy to Reserves, only to be deemed not good enough for the first team and consequently discarded, or otherwise given a sniff of first-team action and then sold. Of course it's not a production line, and there's no guarantee that a highly promising 14-year-old will mature and develop into a brilliant footballer later in life (take Michael Chopra, for example - the new Shearer for a while, but now plying his trade down the road at the Dark Place), but the right coaching in a young player's formative years could make all the difference. Money achieved impressive results as manager of Walsall in a short space of time; success in his new role will be measured in the longer term, but if he can stop us from making another mistake that costs £15m to rectify, then he'll have made a start.

These days, though, it's not just about making sure no one in the local area slips through the net; it's also about seeking out and recruiting the best youth talent around Britain and beyond. Hence our interest in Plymouth's 15-year-old striker Aaron Spear, and hence the fact that our reserve squad includes Dutch goalkeeper Tim Krul, Hungarian defender Tamas Kadar and Italian striker Fabio Zamblera, amongst other young foreign imports. In this respect, Money will be depending upon the effectiveness of our restructured scouting operations for the raw materials with which to work. The fact that those operations are headed up by Dennis Wise is hardly likely to inspire confidence.

The other more high-profile off-the-field appointment which took place during June was of Mike Ashley's mucker Derek Llambias as chairman, following Chris Mort's decision to step down and return to his day job. Mort never struck me as a man who bled football, or even a man who could pretend he bled football, but at the very least he conducted himself in a dignified manner and generally kept a low profile, things of which the previous incumbent was seemingly incapable.

Llambias and Money aside, there were no incomings last month, only outgoings in the shape of David Rozehnal - who as expected joined Lazio, the club at which he was on loan last season - and Emre, for whom Fenerbahce were happy to double our money. But the one player many of us desperately want off the books is still there - I'm too depressed to deal with Porridge, so let's leave him until next month, by which time we may hopefully have got shot of him once and for all.

His name is Jonas

Right, time for my two cents on our first signing of the summer...

It's a curious move, it has to be said, when (as ever) we're most desperate for quality defensive players. Fair play to the club for sniffing out and snapping up talent that could improve the side - and an Argentinian international could certainly do that - but the move would seem to underline that last season's 4-3-3 formation that fired us to safety was a matter of necessity and circumstance rather than choice as far as King Kev was concerned. Why else would he sign another winger when all three wingers on our books were sidelined at the end of last season - Damien Duff and James Milner with injury, admittedly, and Charles N'Zogbia out of favour? It does seem to pave the way for the sale of Milner to Villa once, as seems inevitable, they're flush with cash from the sale of Gareth Barry to Liverpool. I'd rather see Milner and N'Zogbia retained and Duff shown the door, but that doesn't look likely.

We shouldn't be expecting the next Ronaldo - his goalscoring record both in Spain and for his Velez Sarsfield back in Argentina was hardly impressive. But regardless of where exactly he'll play and how many times he'll find the back of the net, he'll certainly have to do better than the last of his compatriots to wind up on Tyneside, the largely ineffective Christian Bassedas, if he wants to win the fans over.

Gutierrez's former club is Real Mallorca, to whom we may or may not have paid a fee - I wonder if the forthcoming friendly match, or even perhaps Fat Fred's rumoured takeover, might have oiled the wheels of the transfer?

On those rare occasions he does score he's earned himself the nickname Spiderman for, er, donning a mask of the superhero. I think we should stick with his real name, and come up with a good chant using this as raw material. Can't be that hard, can it?

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Winging his way in

Occasionally it’s nice to be proved right. Despite no news for ages, we have, as I hoped, been doing something!

According to the ticker on the BBC Sport website, Newcastle have signed Argentine winger Jonas Gutierrez from Real Mallorca. Hopefully more details will emerge shortly, but if anyone knows anything about the player, the comments box awaits you!

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

In suspense

Porridge has, today, been handed a four month suspended sentence for the Ousmane Dabo assault.

What that means in practical terms is that he won't have any additional time added on to the sentence he is currently serving, with reports suggesting that he might be out in time to commence pre-season training on Monday (possibly with a security tag attached to his person).

The media are suggesting that when he is released, Messers Keegan and Llambias will then sit down with the player to discuss his future.

What strikes me is that it's all well and good (and indeed commendable) to stand by an obviously troubled player, but he must surely be entering the last chance saloon. The problem, as I've mentioned before, is that the club is presumably loathe to sacrifice an significant investment, and presumably the player's agent will be capable of finding him a fresh employer, with football packed full of arrogant managers with the belief that they can tame any player and convince them to tow the line.

So on that basis, we're left with the player earning a nice big fat salary, safe in the knowledge that he could always get another club to take him on and pay him a similarly large wage if he were sacked. After all, that's essentially what happened when Allardyce signed him from Man City last June.