Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Quote of the day

"I am not after his job. Alan knew there was a director of football coming in. He felt a little isolated and Mike sussed that."

JFK speaks.

In an interview with the Sunday Times, which the Guardian have since picked up on, our new director of football clarifies that he's only here to support the Silver Fox and hits back at the criticism he's received from the Lion of Gosforth.

While his criticisms of Shearer may have some validity in a coaching sense, the fact that he continues to air them through the press rather than simply maintain a dignified silence continues to be a nightmare. Frankly whoever is controlling media relations at St James' Park wants to place a muzzle on JFK as soon as possible.

As it is, his portrayal of Jabba as a sympathetic employer trying to put a comforting arm around the Silver Fox by employing JFK seems akin to the moment where a mafia boss hugs a previously trusted lieutenant before he is taken away and shot for some past misdemeanour.

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Locker clearances underway

According to the Journal, Romain Amalfitano and Mehdi Abeid have both been deemed as surplus to requirements and advised to find new clubs ahead of next season.

Amalfitano sank without a trace following some brief Europa League forays and Abeid followed a similar path (albeit his farewell appears to have been slightly later during the abysmal capitulation at Brighton in the FA Cup). Neither are likely to be missed.

According to the article, Dan Gosling has also been told he can leave, though his departure looks set to initially be on loan. Despite looking a coup when we nicked him from Everton, his time on Tyneside has been dogged by injury and he's never established himself in the first team. As such, his departure has felt inevitable for some time.

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Friday, June 21, 2013

Hi ho, hi ho, it's off to court we go

With all the chaos at the club this week, it's easy to forget about the last person who was in the quasi-director of football's chair.

Thankfully though, the Poison Dwarf has done his bit to prove he's still around by suing fellow ex-board member Tony Jimenez over an investment made in a French golf resort.

Disappointingly, I'm not sure they can both lose out in a case which revolves around a sum of money roughly equivalent to ten weeks of the Xisco Kid's wages under the contract the two of them offered the Spanish "striker".

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The name game

Work has apparently started on the rebranding of Shearer's bar at St James' Park, with the hostelry to be renamed 9.

Given the frosty relationship which the Lion of Gosforth enjoys with Jabba, it is hardly a shock that we've looked to rebrand, albeit the fact that it began on the day that Shearer was using his Sun column to criticise the return of JFK makes it look like a spiteful knee-jerk reaction.

I can't believe the two are linked, given the time it inevitably takes to commission designs for a pub rebrand, and to be fair the decision can be viewed in one of two ways depending on your point of view. It is either a fitting tribute to the many fine strikers to have worn the number 9 shirt over the year (Milburn, Super Mac, Andy Cole, Sir Les, Shearer et al.) or it's a cheap shot at Wor Al.

It'll be interesting to hear whether the current incumbent of the shirt has any views on effectively being a walking advert for a bar, given his understandable reluctance to be sponsored by Wonga.

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Carr parked

According to the Chronicle, Graham Carr is not about to follow Llambiarse out of the door following the return of JFK.

In an article which is, it must be said, devoid of quotes, the paper asserts that Carr has been reassured of both his role and his future and is now back on the hunt of a new striker.

Given the reported sinking of the Douglas deal by JFK, it's to be hoped that further recommendations from Carr aren't seen to fall at the final foul-mouthed hurdle, or I'd expect Carr to once again review his position.

Still, for now it looks like being positive news.



Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Llambiarse to the slaughter

As if life wasn't complicated enough following the return of JFK, today has seen Llambiarse tender his resignation with immediate effect.

Llambiarse's departure itself is hardly cause for wailing and gnashing of teeth, and while I'm prepared to acknowledge the good work done under his stewardship to balance the books and get us back on an even keel after years of largesse under Fat Fred, he will forever be tainted by the undermining of Keegan, the damning employment tribunal verdict which followed, his restaurant revelations, rebranding St James' Park and jumping into bed with Wonga.

However, with JFK newly installed (and indeed predicting Llambiarse's departure in his buttock-clenchingly embarrassing TalkSport interview), we're now in something of a state of turmoil at a time when we need to be getting ourselves organised so we can strengthen the squad for the campaign ahead.

If Jabba's plan was to shake things up after last year's poor performances he's certainly done that. Whether we're now scrabbling round to find a new managing director or whether tomorrow will see the latest unveiling in our newly restructured board is up for debate, but at the moment it is all very unsettling and doesn't bode well for next season's campaign.



2013-14: a new hope

Today saw the annual unveiling of next season's football fixtures (albeit before Sky, BT and Uncle Tom Cobley get their hands on them) and handed us the fairly challenging prospect of starting away to Manchester City before welcoming Fat Sam to St James' Park the following weekend.

We're currently scheduled to visit 5under1and on 26th October while enjoying the "pleasure" of their company north of the river on 1st February.

Refreshingly we've been handed a home game on Boxing Day, when we entertain Stoke, and finish our campaign with a trip to Anfield.

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Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Ich bin ein Director

It's official.  JFK has been confirmed as our new director of football on a three-year contract.

Some things really are enough to make you want to swear. A lot.

JFK managed to jump the gun slightly, going on TalkSport yesterday to talk about his role, the players in our squad and his own staggeringly large ego and Stalinist approach to historical revisionism.

If his failure to identify players names correctly wasn't just cringingly embarrassing, it might be OK. After all, the story about Big Lad hooking up with England Under 21s and telling Howard Wilkinson that SBR called him Carl Cort is a classic, and one told with warmth and affection by the player.

With JFK though, it's different. He already has form for helping to push an admittedly disgruntled player out of the club by getting his name wrong, and now he's at it again, managing to mangle the majority of the playing staff and fellow board member Llambiarse into the bargain.

Other horrendous examples of the man not knowing his arse from his elbow include the description of Big Lad as "a young kid ... getting better and better". Last time I checked he was in his thirties and entering the last year of his contract. Perhaps he meant Little Big Lad, who is younger and hopefully still improving, albeit from his Twitter account is already unimpressed with JFK's inability to get his name right.

According to the man himself, he has spent his whole life picking up the phone to Taggart and that his name will open a few doors for us in the transfer market. Firstly I suspect that most managers have had better things to do than talk to JFK every day for, well frankly, ever. Secondly, I can't for one second see how a man whose managerial pinnacle was with Wimbledon fifteen years ago is a bigger draw that a man who has taken a side to an FA Cup final and last season reached the quarter-finals of the Europa League.

Perhaps his comment "I can open the door to any football manager in the world" was just another example of him getting his words muddled and he meant to say "I can open the door for...", which makes more sense.

It should also be pointed out that any idiot can see that we need a striker adding this summer. Even I managed that, and I haven't played 400 games for Spurs.

As TBW has suggested, perhaps this is an example of Jabba reasserting his authority over the Silver Fox while also removing an excuse for failure next season.

What is clear is that if JFK is to sit above Graham Carr and the manager, then it's to be hoped that they can relate, or that Jabba and Llambiarse at least recognise that of those three the most important to our long-term future is Carr.

If JFK can keep his head down and be kept away from the press he loves so much, then we might be able to ignore him. Given that his every utterance is a PR disaster in the making, we must also hope that Wonga also use every ounce of their corporate muscle to get the club to keep a muzzle on the man.

And there was me hoping for a quiet summer.

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Monday, June 17, 2013

'Kin hell, it's Joe Kinnear again

First of all, an apology on behalf of Paul. When he was putting together his proposals for what needed to happen this summer to right last season's wrongs, he failed to state that there was a blindingly obvious solution to all our woes: the reappointment of JFK, this time as director of football. Funny, that.

If Jabba truly believes that an arrogant, asterisk-loving arsehole with a dicky ticker is the solution, then I'd venture to suggest that he's misunderstood the problem. If by some miracle the move comes off, then Jabba will deserve to be hailed as a genius and sceptical fans will be queuing up to bare their bottoms in Fenwick's window - but that likelihood looks extremely remote.

So, how to react, other than with utter disbelief and a vague hope that it'll soon be revealed as a hoax or just the ravings of a man bouncing off the walls of his padded cell? More specifically, where does this leave the Silver Fox? It's hard to say, really. On the one hand, the manager has never really had full responsibility for incomings (that's been largely the preserve of Graham Carr and his team, before Llambiarse steps in to conduct the negotiations and sanction the cheques) and JFK has sought to stress that he won't have an influence over the team sheet or tactics. But on the other it clearly suggests that the hierarchy felt the Silver Fox wasn't coping and that assistance was required - so as a result he may well feel undermined and unsettled by the man who has so modestly claimed "I'm a good judge of players" and "I've got a bright head".

Of course, JFK and the Silver Fox will be able to bond over one thing: a mutual love and respect for officials... It's also quite fitting that the club should have sought to renew their relationship with JFK, given that both have recently displayed a somewhat relaxed attitude towards history - the club claiming gates that had stood at St James' Park for less than a decade were somehow historic and iconic, and our new director of football flatly declaring he'd never been in charge of a relegated team, conveniently forgetting about Luton's exit from the Football League back in 2001...

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Sunday, June 16, 2013

The prisoner

According to Wikipedia, Stockholm syndrome is defined as "a psychological phenomenon in which hostages express empathy and sympathy and have positive feelings toward their captors or abusers, sometimes to the point of defending them, and sometimes the feeling of love for the captor shows".

Why the pop psychology lesson? Well, Sideshow Bob's latest comments suggest he might be suffering from the condition: "I’m a grateful person and Newcastle have given me the opportunity of playing in the Premier League, which is the elite of football, so I will stay at Newcastle. I have talked many times with San Lorenzo about moving back with them. My desire is to move back but that¹s not going to happen next season. I didn’t move to San Lorenzo last season because Newcastle didn’t want me to leave.I’m not going to move to San Lorenzo now because Newcastle don’t want me to go. I have to respect that decision."

So the good news is that we won't be waving goodbye to our captain and the one player who holds everything together at the back. A relief, to be sure, though you do have to ponder the wisdom of denying him the move he clearly wants - will his frustrations manifest themselves in his levels of performance and commitment next season? Hopefully he's too professional to allow that to happen.

Meanwhile, the Independent have also reported that we've rubbished rumours from L'Equipe that Dreamboat - touted as Sideshow Bob's potential successor as skipper - is on the verge of a move back to his native France, to newly promoted and big-spending Monaco. The article is distinctly quote-free, however - as is an article in the Heil on Sunday claiming that Mr T has followed Papiss Cisse in kicking up a stink about having to wear a Wonga-branded shirt.

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Saturday, June 15, 2013

A history lesson

The Toon PR machine in action: the club pumps out a story trumpeting the discovery and reinstallation of the "iconic" and "historic" gates at St James' Park, the media (both national and local) eagerly lap it up and regurgitate it in glowing terms, even the representative of a fans' group waxes lyrical about the move.

There's just one small problem, though: the facts simply don't add up. It turns out that the gates in question were originally installed in 1989 and removed just nine years later. Hardly "iconic" or "historic", then. Here's Jackie Smithfield of the Mag to explain.

Personally I'm increasingly suspicious of the word "iconic" - much like its near-homonym "ironic", it's grossly overused and abused these days.

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Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Get Bent?

Today's Torygraph has us linked with a move for ex-Mackem Darren Bent. While shelling out £6m+ for a player who spent last season kicking his heels on the bench of one of our relegation rivals might seem daft, I'd argue he could still do a decent job for someone in the top flight. His sidelining by Paul Lambert looked harsh, though as the season wore on it became evident that the manager's preference for Christian Benteke was well founded. The real issues would be firstly whether Jabba would be prepared to sanction a multi-million-pound move for a 29-year-old whose best days are probably behind him, and secondly whether we could accommodate another striker in exactly the same mould as Papiss Cisse (an out-and-out predator rather than someone who can also create).

Meanwhile, the Journal state the obvious by noting that there's set to be a major bunfight for long-term target Douglas, soon to be a free agent, and the Shields Gazette claim QPR are interested in Danny Simpson. While our outgoing right-back is a solid enough defender, I'm not sure he's the sort of player 'Appy 'Arry should be going for if he wants to rid the Hoops dressing room of egotistical playboy types - and a move to London could be potentially fatal to the career of someone increasingly susceptible to off-field distractions...

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Monday, June 10, 2013

Does my APR look big in this?

So Papiss Cisse is allegedly refusing to wear a Wonga-branded shirt on religious grounds? It's not exactly news - the potential issue was raised back in October, when the deal was first inked - and at the time we did wonder how wearing the Virgin Money logo was any different. But the fact that the issue hasn't been resolved is a worry, given that Cisse, erratic though he was for large parts of last season, is our go-to man for goals and currently the only player in the squad you'd definitely to muster double figures. A solution is needed - and that solution isn't to flog him to either Anzhi Makhachkala or Borussia Dortmund.

This all comes as a distraction when we should be looking at bolstering our forward options. Wigan's Arouna Kone reportedly has a £6.5m release clause while there's talk of Demba Ba being made surplus to requirements at Chelsea by returning manager Jose Mourinho. However, the former is the subject of serious interest from both red and blue halves of Merseyside, Ba proved somewhat incompatible with Cisse in his previous spell on Tyneside and both are, like Cisse, practising Muslims so would presumably also have a problem with our new sponsor...

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Quote of the day

"For the moment I am at Newcastle, you never know what happens in football ... The season is not finished as I have still two matches [for France]. After that I'm going on holiday and it can't come soon enough to clear my head of the difficult season we have just had, and I let my agents work for me. I have had no direct contact with anyone, maybe my agents are currently in the know. ... [Man Utd] are always well placed amongst the big clubs, yes for sure it could be an interesting challenge but like I said for the moment, there is nothing concrete and I am still at Newcastle."

A fresh cause for concern: Dreamboat's most recent pronouncements on French TV. As is the usual way with these things, he was asked if he would fancy a hypothetical move to Man Utd, to which he replied, "Yes, of course" as any sane individual probably would, and it gets sold as "Player is desperate for move to Man Utd". However, I don't think this can simply be dismissed as a media-created story given Dreamboat's candid comments about agents being busy at work and that very weak claim of commitment to his current club - "for the moment, there is nothing concrete and I am still at Newcastle". It suggests to me that the man earmarked for the captaincy may not even be a Toon player come the start of the new season.

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Sunday, June 09, 2013

Picking up the pieces?

The official list of players released by Premier League clubs has now been published and there are no surprises for us: stalwart Steve Harper's gone (but not forgotten), Danny Simpson is at liberty to live up his playboy lifestyle as Tulisa's other half and Yven Moyo has been let go without breaking into the first-team squad.

Details of other clubs' rejects make for interesting reading, though. There are a handful of very high-cost write-offs - Andrey Arshavin, David Bentley, Roque Santa Cruz - that would have had us wincing if we were the club for whom they'd singularly underperformed. I'm not sure there are too many on there that we should bust a gut to try and snap up. Mladen Petric, perhaps, who didn't get many chances in his one and only season at Fulham - but he, like most on the list, is someone whose best days are well behind him. Or jug-eared ex-Mackem Rory Delap, whose prodigious throw-ins would at least make us more threatening from set-pieces...



Saturday, June 08, 2013

Young guns denied the opportunity to go for it

Every summer we talk about the importance of developing our youngsters and bringing them through into the first team, and every year we're disappointed with the way that pans out. In some instances they're given their chance to prove themselves but unfortunately turn out to be not be quite good enough, but in most cases they don't get an opportunity, with imports taking precedence as under-pressure managers and owners seek a quick fix.

It seems we're not alone among Premier League clubs, though, judging by the findings of a recent survey reported by the BBC published to coincide with the start of the U21 European Championships in Israel. It found that only 35 English U21 players appeared in the top flight last season, and that together they got less game time than ever before. Five clubs - Chelsea, Man City, Swansea, Stoke and Wigan - didn't field a single English U21 player, though it's perhaps a bit harsh to criticise the Swans for that given that they're Welsh...

For those concerned with the state and future development of our national game, the statistics make for grim reading, but they should also have interest for the individual clubs. If we (and clubs like us) are serious about cutting down on expenditure, living within our means and becoming more sustainable, then having a productive youth set-up and a willingness to blood youngsters when it's felt they're ready will be key to our success. A make-or-break campaign lies ahead for at least two of our English U21s, Little Big Lad and James Tavernier, while eyes will also be on other youngsters like Gael Bigirimana, Shane Ferguson and Haris Vuckic who've also had a sniff of first-team action.

Question time

An astonishing fact: who's now the longest-serving Premier League manager after Arsene Wenger? Answers on a metaphorical postcard...

Friday, June 07, 2013

Trotters turn down a fast buck from QuickQuid

Now here's something you don't find every day in the world of football: an instance of ethics and principle triumphing over cold, hard cash. Last week we reported that Bolton's hierarchy were receiving flak from fans and local MPs alike for the decision to sign a shirt sponsorship deal with payday loans company QuickQuid. Remarkably, people power has now prevailed and the club have backtracked, issuing a statement admitting: "Whilst we anticipated some negative responses from the initial agreement, we underestimated the adverse reaction to the sector of business in which the sponsor operated".

What chance a similar scenario playing out at St James' Park? None. While the Wonga deal initially stirred up some controversy and opposition, the kerfuffle has since died down (no doubt to the considerable relief of both club and company) and there's no longer the sort of public pressure that would be required to force Jabba, Llambiarse et al to reconsider. If it was going to happen, it would surely have happened shortly after the original announcement was made - and even then the hierarchy is hardly renowned for its receptiveness to fans' voices. As it is, we're lumbered with endorsing a company who operate in a sector recently lambasted for "widespread irresponsible lending" by the Office of Fair Trading and branded "out of control" by Citizens Advice. And there we were hoping that being associated with irresponsibility and excessive behaviour was very much a thing of the past...

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Quote of the day

"I've never played under anyone like him and I've played for some of the best managers around. Steve Bruce, Roberto Martínez and Sir Bobby Robson. He thinks he knows everything, but he has got a lot to learn. He's got a long, long way to go before he gets anywhere near as good as Sir Bobby Robson. He's a young manager trying to stamp his mark on things, but he's making some big mistakes. He's targeted the easy players, the ones who are leaving anyway, trying to show he's the boss. I was fined for not going to a weights session. Everyone else at the club thought it was ridiculous, but he's trying to be tough. He comes out in the media and hammers players and he hasn't said a word to them. He's never said anything like that to [Wickham's] face. He's 19 and the manager is battering him in the media."

Agent Bramble may now have departed the Dark Place, but he still remembered his mission to the last, firing this parting shot at Paulo Di Canio (a "strange person") and his man-management style and thereby suggesting that, while the Mackem supporters might revere the loon for inspiring the derby day victory, the club's players are rather less enthusiastic about the man in charge.

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Thursday, June 06, 2013

A Month Of Saturdays: May 2013

Fresh from a 6-0 home hiding by Liverpool and with rumours of dressing-room division rife, we went into the final month of the season seemingly in a headlong plummet towards relegation. It was clear that urgent action was needed if we were to avoid a repeat of the 2008/9 campaign.

The first step was to silence those rumours of discontent within the camp (discontent which allegedly had a Francophone clique pitched against the rest - so much for improving Anglo-French relations..). So it was that both Mr T and Papiss Cisse were wheeled out before the media to flatly deny the claims. Not that one of the prime sources of the story was present to hear the denial - the Torygraph's Luke Edwards having been banned by an evidently furious Silver Fox. A justifiable and legitimate course of action in the face of irresponsible and inaccurate journalism or the behaviour of an increasingly desperate man feeling the heat and a club infuriated at having its dirty laundry hung out for public viewing at the worst possible moment? We couldn't be sure.

The quotes served up by Mr T and Cisse may have felt scripted, but it was on the pitch that the players needed to do their real talking. In that respect, then, and in the context of the Liverpool catastrophe, a battling goalless draw at West Ham was significantly more convincing. It was no coincidence that the much-needed shut-out was achieved with captain Sideshow Bob back in the side, leaving old boys Fat Sam and former housemates Rocky and Kevin Nolan frustrated. And yet it could have been better had Cisse not been unjustly denied another yet another goal, and those elusive two additional points looked like being costly when results elsewhere went against us. Mercifully, however, our luck was about to change.

You'd probably have got put in a straitjacket if, back in August, you'd claimed that arguably the two most important goals of our season would be scored by Swansea's Dwight Tiendalli and Chelsea's Frank Lampard. But that's exactly what happened, with first Tiendalli condemning Wigan to a dismal midweek defeat and then Lampard scoring twice the following Saturday to overturn a deficit against Aston Villa and break Bobby Tambling's club record in the process.

The upshot of those results was that a win at already relegated QPR would be enough to secure our Premier League status. Fail, and we didn't deserve to stay up. Typically we did it the hard way, conceding a penalty that the Hoops' money-grabbing striker Loic £emy duly fired home, before digging deep (and profiting from some awful defending) to come from behind and then having to cling on after Rob Elliot was sent to get the bathtaps running early. As it turned out, Steve Harper was the calming influence we needed, and we saw out the remainder of the match to cling to the precious three points.

Elliot's dismissal handed Harper the unexpected opportunity of one final 90 minutes for the club he had served (albeit sporadically) for twenty years - if the scriptwriters of Mr T and Cisse's rift denials were paying attention, they'd have been nodding along in appreciation. In an ill-advisedly candid interview after the QPR win, a relieved Silver Fox announced that he didn't care if we got walloped by Arsenal, a statement he soon attempted to retract or at least claim as being, "of course, a joke". As it turned out, not only were we not walloped, but we actually played with a commendably high tempo and plenty of gusto in a spirited first half. It was only in the second period that the Gunners' class told - not to mention the fact that our players' minds were half on their holidays while our visitors were fixated on grabbing the final Champions League spot ahead of their bitter rivals. Laurent Koscielny's goal was the difference, and we never looked like mounting a recovery as the season petered out.

That was the cue for the post-mortem to begin, an examination of the many reasons for our dismal showing: injuries, loss of form, transfer dealings, tactics etc. Ultimately, though, I suppose the critical thing is that we ended up above the dotted line (and the Mackems) whereas three other sides - QPR, Reading and Wigan - didn't. The latter are our bete noire so it was with considerable glee that we waved them off to the Championship. There was equally a sizeable measure of Schadenfreude in seeing 'Appy 'Arry - the man who did so much to publicise Demba Ba's release clause - fail to save QPR and in speculating about the fact that their finances might now be on the verge of going into meltdown. When we were still sweating on survival ourselves, reports suggested that we too might be staring a similar fate in the face - thankfully, we never got to find out if the rumours of our idiocy were true.

The task now is to put in the essential groundwork to ensure that we don't find ourselves in the same predicament again next season. Mark Hughes famously declared as much of QPR last May and has been made to look very foolish indeed. Paul outlined what's required, proposing some additions on the coaching side of things as well as identifying holes in the first-team squad that need to be filled. A new central defender seems to be one of our priorities even if Sideshow Bob does stay, and Douglas would fit the bill (though Agent Bramble, recently allowed to flee the Dark Place, wouldn't). Potential new recruits certainly won't have any excuse for not being able to locate St James' Park, voted the league's most easily accessible ground...

There were some hints, though, that in looking to the future we're also aiming to promote from within rather than just simply buy from without. Having made considerable impact on loan at St Mirren, best Buddies Conor Newton and Paul Dummett were both rewarded with the offer of new deals, and goalkeeping coach Andy Woodman was effusive in his praise of Jak Alnwick, set to be understudy to Tim Krul and Rob Elliot now that Harper's disappeared into the sunset.

While most players jetted off for scarcely deserved stints on sun loungers, Raylor made the trip to Colorado to Richard Steadman's treatment table in the hope that the magician can cure him of his recurrent injury problems and save his career. I presume that by now there must be daily flights direct from Newcastle Airport to Steadman's surgery.

The fact that silly season was well and truly upon us was confirmed by the appearance on the Sports Direct site of a report that we'd held discussions with Shrek's agent and were preparing a bid (not for the first time). The story was swiftly retracted as complete fabrication and an apology issued, but it was significantly more plausible than a side contriving to finish sixteenth the year after finishing fifth. As usual with Newcastle Utd, though, truth is stranger than fiction.



Tuesday, June 04, 2013

Look Hughes on our radar

Where there's a Will, there's a way? Perhaps, though if we really want to get our hands on Will Hughes it looks as though we'll have to fight off stiff competition and stump up a significant transfer fee of £10m+. The 18-year-old Derby midfielder has been earning rave reviews at Pride Park, but it's doubtful he'd be able to step straight into our first team and as such that sort of outlay might be considered too much.

Another player we're reportedly looking at is Reading defender Alex Pearce, available on a free but also wanted by his former manager Brendan Rodgers at Liverpool. The rationale seems to be less about bringing in a solid defender (after all, the Royals' defence was hardly watertight last season and, like his fellow centre-backs, Pearce never really cemented a place for himself in the side) and more about adding to our aerial threat in the opposing penalty area. It comes as little surprise to learn that we failed to score a single goal from a corner last campaign, though is no less depressing for that fact.

In today's Journal Mark Douglas claims that we might only be seeking to add a couple of new faces rather than radically reshape the squad - something that Paul half-suspected. Not a problem if our existing players manage to remain injury-free and rediscover their form - but that's a big if, as last season demonstrated. It would probably be better to be (comfortably) safe rather than (nearly) sorry.

A new striker seems to be the priority - perhaps a belated acknowledgement that Goofy, despite making a positive contribution to our run-in, isn't the direct replacement for Demba Ba that Llambiarse implied he was back in February. The identities of our primary targets on this front are unclear - interest in St Etienne's Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang appears to have cooled and he's now talking about Bayer Leverkusen, Swansea and Champions League finalists Borussia Dortmund as possible destinations, while Braga's Eder has a long-term cruciate ligament injury. Given events of the last year, we hardly want to be buying players who are already crocked before they come to us - it'll happen soon enough anyway...

One possible departure is Mr T, who is reportedly the subject of interest from Lokomotiv Moscow. As I suggested in my end-of-season review, not so long ago the prospect of losing the Ivorian, even for a fee in excess of £20m, would have been painful, but after a torrid campaign moving him on for a tidy profit might be the best option.

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Just in case you were still unsure about whether Paolo Di Canio is a laughable buffoon, here he is performing a number with Toploader...

(Thanks to Niall for the link.)