The Libero - Welcome back Newcastle United
Published: 07 Apr 2010 - 09:05:43
Newcastle are back in the Premier League after the briefest possible absence, and there can't be many who begrudge the Magpies their promotion.
No doubt, they have been by far and away the best team in the Championship this season and Chris Hughton's side fully deserve their place in the top flight. But their legions of fans need to get real.
The club's biggest successes in recent years have been promotions from lower divisions and the Toon have not won any meaningful silverware since the Fairs Cup in 1969 - hardly the mark of a great club.
Yes, Newcastle are a big club in that they means a great deal to a lot of people but they cannot be classed as such in terms of success on the pitch. Yet Geordie fans firmly believe their rightful place is alongside the likes of Manchester United, Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool.
Perhaps due to the club's meteoric, albeit brief, rise under Kevin Keegan in the mid-1990s into such a position, those expectations have not been dampened by their latest stint in the Championship; it has been done before, so it can be done again, seems to be the thinking.
But such an outlook is dangerous and the only serves to increase the already huge pressure on both the manager and his players. Indeed, Newcastle would be better off forgetting about Keegan completely. What he did at St James' Park as a manager was truly amazing, some would say Messianic, but his achievements are unlikely to be matched.
Considering what he did during his first spell there, it is perhaps understandable that the Toon Army still pine for him, but the club needs to move on. He's already been back once and it didn't work out, but a line is yet to be drawn under him.
Likewise Alan Shearer, whose name is certain to crop up should things go pear-shaped for Hughton next season. The former Toon striker seems to be the go-to guy in times of crisis on Tyneside, a man for the local people and a popular candidate for the managerial hotseat, despite having more experience of sitting on a couch and chatting than actually managing football teams.
Hughton has done a magnificent job in leading the Toon back to the top flight and he doesn't deserve to have the spectres of Keegan, Shearer or anyone else for that matter, looming over him as he leads his club into next season.
Seemingly by accident, given that he was initially only given the job temporarily with the club up for sale, Newcastle have stumbled upon a manager who has been able to offer something his immediate predecessors have not - a solid foundation upon which to build a decent team. That decent team is now a Premier League concern and therefore a far more saleable asset than before, although it remains to be seen whether Mike Ashley will decide to cash in.
Either way, Ashley or whoever succeeds him as owner of the club must be willing to invest in the team which, however perfectly well equipped to waltz through the Championship, may still struggle in the Premier League. But perhaps more important than an injection of new blood into the playing staff is that Hughton is given time.
It is no coincidence that Newcastle have stormed the Championship with just one man in charge throughout the entire season - something of a rarity on Tyneside in recent years. And there is a degree of irony that in a season of such instability off the pitch, Newcastle have managed to find stability on it.
Having reaped the benefits of that, it would be madness to put it at risk, although the worry is that a new owner, if Ashley does indeed sell up, may want to bring in his own people. But, for the time being at least, things are looking up on Tyneside and if Hughton is backed and allowed to splash some cash this summer to build for a long-term future, those thousands of loyal fans may yet see their side start competing for major honours.
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- FOOTBALL.CO.UK BLOGGER:the libero
- Libero (noun): 1. Versatile, ball-playing defender given licence to roam. Expected to break up opposition attacks while instigating counters. Role patented by German legend Franz Beckenbauer. 2. Versatile weekly football columnist, aka journalist Mike Hytner, given licence to write what he likes. Expected to file every Wednesday. Not nearly as talented as his boyhood hero Der Kaiser.
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