After seventeen disastrous months in charge at St James’s Park, Graham Souness was finally put out of his increasingly apparent misery this week. It had been clear for some time that the former Liverpool stalwart had taken Newcastle United as far as he could take them. That is, not very far at all. The decision to sack him just two days after the close of the transfer window was just the sort of inexplicable buffoonery we have come to expect from this interminably poorly-managed club, which for some years appears to have had its head firmly lodged up its own sentimentalist, underachieving rectum.
This club, whose die-hard fans are ritually patronised every week by the London-based media on account of their “loyalty” (meaning “blind refusal to make a realistic analysis of their club’s situation”), and who on an almost annual basis allow themselves to be held to ransom by the whims of one or other “affable” or “loveable” – but thoroughly unsuitable – manager (Keegan, Gullit, Robson, Souness, Keegan again?), have seen fit to allow former England legend Alan Shearer and equally inexplicable exalted role. He announces at a press conference that, for all Souness’s hard work, “The result’s weren’t good enough”. Clearly this affirmation of the board’s decision was not made in Shearer’s capacity as a centre-forward, or even as club Captain, but as a figure somewhat above and beyond both his fellow players and the club staff. Only at Newcastle, and perhaps the equally-shambolic Real Madrid, can an individual player hold such Messianic status without being shunned by his supporters, without anyone getting an inkling that perhaps this sort of egotism is not healthy for the club. Which is not in any way to defend Souness’s reign – his scattergun approach to signings, the spineless way in which this supposed disciplinarian dealt with two of his players fighting each other on the pitch, and the tactless way in which he unwittingly knocked the confidence of the players available to him by constant and persistent reference to his injury list as the primary cause of each of his many defeats.
In terms of a successor, Newcastle would be extremely fortunate to land the excellent Gus Hiddink. Martin O’Neil will not join Newcastle unless he has recently gone utterly insane – he has more pressing concerns in his private life and will probably not come back into football until the Manchester United job becomes available. The vacancy comes at an awkward time for Sam Allardyce, who will have the England job in mind. If he did join Newcastle, fans worried about attractive football would do well to consider the at this juncture this is not something their team can afford to worry about; in addition, it is unlikely that Allardyce would necessarily persist in his set-piece based game at St James’s, as this style was forced on him by a relative lack of funds at Bolton. Charlton’s Alan Curbishley would be the intelligent choice from among the British managers. It would, however, be in keeping with ten years of naïve and backward thinking at St James’s, and therefore no big surprise, if either Kevin Keegan or a discredited and past-it Sven Goran Eriksson were to be brought in to make the Geordies suffer for another year or so, while the rest of us look on and wonder: When will they ever learn?