Friday, February 1, 2008

Newcastle deserve to go to the dogs

Newcastle United have sacked another manager and the poor fellow couldn’t even manage a full year in the job. “Big Sam’ is gone. Less than a year removed from his confident entry, he is now a forlorn shadow of his once glorious self at Bolton Wanderers. He follows in the footsteps of Glenn Roeder and Graeme Souness. The three of them had found moderate to great success at other premiership clubs and were expected to bring success to the Geordies. All of them were given sufficient transfer funds to make an impact and failed miserably at that, making inglorious exits. But even then, they were treated with far greater respect than the man who preceded them; a man whose stature as a manager, both at Newcastle and elsewhere, belittles the three who followed him to mere midgets.
Sir Bobby Robson - forever young

Sir Bobby Robson is a man greatly admired, loved and cherished by everyone remotely connected to football. After a distinguished playing career which saw international action as well, he made his mark as a manager by winning league titles in England, Spain and Portugal. He also managed his native England at two World Cups and on each occasion his team was successful, played with flair and displayed great courage and unity – qualities not seen in many English sides since. His passion for the game knows no bounds and when not on the pitch or the bench, he can be seen cheering like a young kid from the rafters. This from someone who’s had 6 cancer operations and counting.

After conquering the continent with Barcelona and Porto, Sir Bobby returned home on being courted by the Newcastle chairman, Freddy Sheppard. The club was floundering and going nowhere. Sir Bobby (I cannot address him in any other way) immediately put the club back on track leading to three successful campaigns in the premiership. The club finished in the top-5 every time including a third –place finish as well. They had two fairytale Champions League runs, adding substantially to Geordie lore. Sir Bobby achieved all this with far less to spend than what was afforded to the losers who followed him. But for Sir Bobby, Freddy Sheppard’s stint as Chairman would have been remembered like the Chinese remember the Hwang-ho floods- for their misery.

I still don’t understand why Sir Bobby was sacked in the most unceremonious manner possible. By the same man, who once courted him and to whose club he gave a new lifeline. The slow start to the season was cited as one of the reasons but Newcastle overcame similar early hiccups in the two previous years. The primary owner, Sir John Hall was equally guilty; not even agreeing to meet Sir Bobby during his exit. What rankled even more was the surprising lack of protest from the fans. The most enduring image was of two ten-year olds holding placard saying, “Please don’t leave Sir Bobby”. While the entire adult world turned a blind eye to the injustice, a bunch of kids made a mute protest.

But bad karma has befallen them – the injury to Michael Owen being most notable. They have gone from one transfer bust to another and managers have come and gone. They have been so bad that even the great Alan Shearer has resisted the urge to become manager and tarnish his great playing record.

Luckily for Sir Hall and Freddy Sheppard, Mike Ashley came along; pockets full of money. His purchase of the club spared them the drudgery of running a cursed club. He inherited the bad karma as well, firing his first manager in half a season. He’s gambled with Kevin Keegan hoping for a repeat of his magical first spell as Newcastle manager. As the early results show, an overly attacking manager is not the right remedy for a club with no defense. Not that the attack is as potent as that of Man United. The club’s humiliation continues and the fans continue to suffer. They are supposed to be the best fans in the country. Not for me. Not when you treat Sir Bobby as if he was the originator of the Mad Cow disease.

Liverpool were banished from the European stage for their Heysel misadventure. Their return to European glory came after almost two decades. Newcastle deserve the same if not more. Long live Sir Bobby.

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