Friday, February 10, 2006

Where do we go now?

To quote Axl Rose. Why? Because we too appear to have an Appetite For (Self-)Destruction...

So, who's next for "the poisoned chalice" / "one of the biggest jobs in the world"? With the rumour mill going into overdrive now that the transfer window has closed and journalists have nothing better to write about, I suggest where Souness went wrong and what we need now, while Paul takes a look at the candidates currently considered by the bookies to be in with a chance of being the latest person to get the chance to dip into of Fat Fred's "war chest".

* * * * *

Everyone knows that Souness's appointment was Shepherd grasping at straws, having allegedly failed to tempt five other managers into becoming Sir Bobby's successor. His track record hardly inspired confidence, and we were ultimately proved right. At the time, though, we tried to console ourselves with the thought that Souness had a reputation as a disciplinarian (not the soft touch that Bobby could be at times) and would therefore hopefully root out some of the dressing-room irritants and get the rest on the straight and narrow.

Souness did manage to move on the majority of the troublemakers and wasters, with Kluivert, Robert and Bellamy all shoved out of the door in the summer. But he also came to us with a reputation for being a poor man-manager, and that was certainly borne out in his handling of things. A better manager might have got the best out of Robert and Kluivert, while the situation with Bellamy could have been dealt with so much better. He might be a little toerag, and after his "liar" comments he had to go, but you won't find many Geordies who don't feel at least a bit saddened by the fact that we no longer have Bellamy in our arsenal. Other players have been alienated by Souness, and there have been plenty of rumours that when Roeder and Shearer took the reins it was like a breath of fresh air.

One thing that Souness could - and did - point to in his defence throughout his reign (and particularly this season) was the length of the injury list, and the calibre (or value...) of players on it. He had a point. It has been truly horrific. But matters were not helped by the delay in moving to alternative training facilities when it was discovered the ground could have been causing many of the hamstring problems, and Souness was also guilty on several occasions of rushing players back too soon and seeing them come off limping with a recurrence of the original problem. The training methods endorsed by Souness, Saunders et al were not rumoured to be the best, either - hardly a surprise, given Mark Hughes's comments after taking over from Souness at Blackburn.

The injuries excuse only goes so far, as does the one that says few if any of our key players have been good form this season. Souness was not only utterly incapable of getting the best out of those he did have at his disposal (lest we forget, still a mixture of multimillion pound signings and talented homegrown youngsters), he was also extraordinarily tactically inept. Players were repeatedly thrust into action out of position (Luque, Ameobi, N'Zogbia, Bellamy...), with the result that they played poorly, their confidence diminished further and, in the case of Bellamy, tempers flared.

So, what we need now is this: an excellent man-manager able to summon enthusiasm and commitment from what remains a very talented squad, and sufficiently tactically astute to deploy the players available to him in such a way that he can get the best out of them and put the opposition onto the back foot.

To put it simply, Fred, we don't need another Souness.

* * * * *

(Odds courtesy of Skybet - correct at time of posting)

Martin O'Neill (7/2)

Pros: Proven motivator of men, with a pedigree of winning trophies and an ability to deal with the expectation that managing a club with 50,000+ attendances every week. Strong pedigree and the most likely candidate to revitalise the club in the way we'd all like. Already more popular on Tyneside than Souness ever was.

Cons: Few [alleged Mackem affiliations aside, that is - Ben], although whether his wife makes a sufficient recovery to allow him to take over remains to be seen. Also a prime candidate for the England job.

Big Phil Scolari (5/1)

Pros: Won the World Cup, lead Portugal to runners-up spot in European Championships. Clearly the man has ability to manage big name players in high profile situations.

Cons: English isn't his strongest language, and working with a translator (unless they happen to be Jose Mourinho) isn't easy. Long time out of club management. Does he really need the hassle?

Glen Hoddle (6/1)

Pros: Decent England manager, who would have held on to the job but for pesky journalists asking him questions about subjects other than football...

Cons: Often described as aloof. Doesn't rate Michael Owen as a goal scorer. Terrible man-management skills.

Fat Sam Allardyce (7/1)

Pros: Turned a pretty rotten Bolton side into a top six team. Progressive thinker.

Cons: Bolton are are still pretty rotten to watch. He turned us down last time. Chairman seems unwilling to let him move for anything other than the England job.

David O'Leary (8/1)

Pros: Works well with younger players. Currently getting the best out of James Milner who will be back at the club in time for next season. Led Leeds to semi-finals of Champions League.

Cons: Incapable of taking responsibility when things go wrong. Permanently hides behind excuses. Unlikely to inspire enthusiasm amongst fans or players. Talks shit.

Ottmar Hitzfeld (9/1)

Pros: Experienced coach, with incredibly strong track record, particularly when it comes to handling high profile clubs with massive expectations.

Cons: Unproven in the Premiership. Would he want the job, or is he more likely to wait and see what becomes available after the World Cup?

Claudio Ranieri (14/1)

Pros: Has made steady progress developing young players wherever he's been previously with a fair degree of success. Would welcome the opportunity to return to Premiership management. Dignified man beloved of the media.

Cons: Tinker man, never seemed to settle on a preferred team. Made a bit of a balls up when given Roman's millions to spend. Failed to discipline players when they underperformed.

Alan Shearer (25/1)

Pros: Local hero, guaranteed support of fans and board.

Cons: Strength of personality might well alienate as many players as it motivates. Not enough experience. Doesn't want the job. Unlikely to risk souring his reputation on Tyneside. Already has a job lined up at the BBC.

Paul Jewell (25/1)

Pros: Wigan's rise this season must largely be credit to him. He's produced an excellent team spirit and forged a team who many thought of as relegation fodder into one challenging for Europe.

Cons: Could well be a one season wonder. Not enough experience with "star" players. Hardly a name to attract "big name" players.

Glenn Roeder (33/1)

Pros: Popular ex-player turned Academy coach and caretaker manager. Knows the club, knows the expectations of the fans and board. Already has experience of managing in the Premiership. Currently has a 100% record as Newcastle manager.

Cons: One swallow doesn't make a summer. Experience in Premiership ended when his West Ham team were relegated. Already stated he doesn't want the job.

Sven-Goran Eriksson (33/1)

Pros: Undoubtedly a strong club record, and a good international showing as England boss until pesky journalist got in the way. Bound to enjoy everything the Quayside has to offer.

Cons: Apart from the money, I can't see why he'd want the job. Much more likely to be the new boss at Real Madrid.

Steve Bruce (33/1)

Pros: None.

Cons: Manc-loving Steve professes allegiance whilst constantly scouring the jobs pages for a better offer. Still rates Nicky Butt. Currently taking Birmingham back to the Championship.

Roberto Mancini (33/1)

Pros: Strong club record on the continent. Big name manager.

Cons: No experience in the Premiership.

Kevin Keegan (33/1)

Pros: Still capable of exciting Tyneside with his enthusiasm and energy. Entertaining football guaranteed.

Cons: Yesterday's man. Never go back, just ask Howard Kendall.

Alan Curbishley (40/1)

Pros: Charlton's consistency and ability to establish themselves as a solid top flight side is down to Curbishley.

Cons: Charlton always fall apart in February. Still a possibility for the England job, albeit behind Allardyce. Doubtful he'd leave Charlton. A bit dull really.

(Incidentally, if you want an outside bet, Jimmy Nail and Ant & Dec are both 1000/1 and the Geordie Dancer is 2000/1...)


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