I was listening to the pod-cast of BBC’s 606 football phone-in from after Wednesday’s internationals earlier, but naturally, Alan Shearer’s appointment as temporary boss of Newcastle was getting its fair share of discussion, aided by the fact that the man himself called up for a chat. I was shocked to hear some of the accusations levelled at the Geordie legend on the show though, as I must admit I thought it was a decent move for Newcastle.
However, a couple of the callers on the show suggested that they thought Shearer has just taken the job to ‘raise his profile’ and questioned why he hadn’t taken the job when offered it earlier in the season, choosing instead to sit on Match of the Day and slag off the club. I must admit, I sincerely hope that this is a view held by the minority, because I think anyone who concurs with the above sentiments does Alan Shearer a great disservice.
For a start, Shearer is an iconic name in English football, and one of the greatest forwards of his generation. He led the England national team for many years and proved to be an incredibly consistent goal scorer in the Premier League. He does not need to raise his profile at all, even if he were concerned with such preoccupations as fame, which I must admit, I don’t think he is.
But then, you have to consider the possible ramifications of his taking this job on, because all though many Geordies are bound to be over the moon at having their local hero back involved at the club, the harsh reality is that they look, at the moment, incredibly likely to be relegated. They’re a team without form and without confidence and of all the clubs in trouble theirs is arguably the toughest run-in. So it seems very likely that the beginning of Shearer’s managerial career could see him relegate almost immediately.
Now it is no secret that Shearer is a man who is quite interested in having a managerial career. he has done his coaching badges and is still very much in touch with the game, partly thanks to his regular slot on BBC’s punditry team. So if Shearer was really only interested in raising his own profile, i.e. if he was in this for personal gain, I highly doubt he would take a job that is very likely to see him relegated almost immediately.
No, the fact is, Shearer loves Newcastle Football Club, and he has taken on this job because he wants to do all he can to keep them in the Premier League. I don’t see why any one in their right minds could question the man’s commitment to his club. He is a local bloke, whose dream was always to play for his boyhood team. He even turned down a glittering and trophy filled career with Manchester United to go to Newcastle and perennially underachieve instead! The man lives and breathes the club and I am under no illusion that he has taken this job on much as a loving wife looks after her sick husband. They’re in a mess, but you love them, and will help pull them through if it’s the last thing you do.
For those who criticise Shearer for not taking the job months ago (i.e. when Kinnear got the job), I think they are making one key assumption here that may in fact be a fallacy. For Shearer to take the job, he must first be offered it, and I don’t believe that happened. He said as much on the 606 show that I mentioned earlier, but aside from taking his word for it, I genuinely don’t think the board would have considered him for the post then.
Shearer is, after all, a complete novice when it comes to management, he has his badges, but that’s about it. Back when Newcastle appointed Kinnear, there was still a big chunk of the season left and they need someone with guile and experience to turn the ship around. Shearer was not that man, and despite the craving hearts of thousands of fans, the board were not naive enough to appoint a novice just to appease the fans. And yes, of course there were rumours abound that Shearer might take over, but think about it. There have been rumours that Shearer might be returning to Newcastle since the very day he left. Rumours in the press mean less than nothing.
So what has changed now? Well, Shearer hasn’t, he’s still a complete newbie in the management game (unless he’s been hitting Football Manager hard over the past few months), with only a few badges to his name, and that don’t mean much. But Newcastle are now just eight games from relegation. That’s an incredibly slim window that they have to turn things round and so the time for sound and experienced management is all but gone.
No, what is really essential in a relegation dogfight is belief, spirit and the ability to bloody battle for every inch. The only way Newcastle will survive is if they want it more than the other teams do. Every team in and around that drop zone has quality players that are good enough to beat the other teams, at the end of the day, it is a battle of spirit, a battle of wills.
And so I think Shearer may just be the right man for the job. He was certainly a battler in his playing days, the sort of player that will always give 110% and never throw in the towel. He’s also a wily old customer who has been there and done that. And while he never exactly thrills me with his analysis in the studio (though he is a million times better than the prats they put on Kiwi TV), he is a man who will command a lot of respect in the dressing room. He is a genuine living legend (especially in Newcastle) and the players will respect that, they will respond to that and if he’s good, he will get them fighting for him, and for his team.
What’s more, Shearer brings the crowd back on side. They have an incredibly loyal fan base up in Newcastle, and though they would never turn on their team, they will not have been happy with the way their team has performed this season. For such a committed bunch of fans, the shaky, nondescript and uncommitted performances put in all too often by the Magpies this season will have been heart breaking.
But in Shearer, as with Keegan, they have one of their gods back at the club. The reception that Shearer will receive at St. James’ Park on Saturday will be simply unbelievable. The fans will be well and truly up for it and the place will be rocking. The return of Shearer will fill them with a new sense of hope and belief and as such the atmosphere in the stadium and the support behind their team will be momentous.
And ask any player who has played in front of really committed crowds and they will tell you that a good crowd can really spur a team on. That roar of encouragement every time a tackle is won or a pass is made or a surging run goes flying into the opponents half will drive them on and raise their confidence and belief. That will be essential to Newcastle’s battle against the drop and I’m sure will make a change from the almost despairing atmosphere that has been draped over St. James’ for much of the season.
In sum then, I think that those who doubt Shearer’s commitment and motivation for this job are severely mistaken. Yes it is certainly a risk that Newcastle have taken, and it may backfire. But I don’t think it will. I think Shearer might just prove the doubters wrong by inspiring Newcastle to play as we know they can, with passion and commitment, and overseeing a successful battle against relegation. And I must say, I hope he does.
I’ve always admired Alan Shearer, even when he was scoring the best goal of his career against my beloved Everton. Fact is, I spent so much time following England as a kid and relying on him to pop up and get us the all important goals. But he is also one of an almost extinct breed of footballer, a player and a fan, imbued with talent but driven by the love that we feel too. And it is these qualities that I think, give him a faint hope of success in his first managerial post, and for Newcastle at the moment, a faint hope is all they can hope for.