Forty eight hours have passed, yet still the inquests rumble on. Still the post-mortem is being carried out, still each and every name and role is under scrutiny, with every pundit and his dog having their say on exactly where Newcastle have gone so terribly wrong, and how they can sort out this most farcical of quandaries.
And yet still there has been little word coming out of St James’ Park itself. The only person who has broken the code of omerta- Damien Duff- has been laughed at, despite pledging his future to the club. It is harsh on the Irishman, who faces the sickening distinction of being the chap whose own-goal eventually nailed down the lid on Newcastle’s Premiership coffin, yet who has been one of the few players to emerge with anything even approaching credit in the club’s pitiful slide from the top flight.
Duff is one of Newcastle’s high earners, one of a reported fifteen players whose weekly wage surpasses the £50,000 mark, with no system in place to see that lowered following relegation. Alan Shearer is expected to meet besieged owner Mike Ashley tomorrow to thrash out the finer points of a projected four-year contract as manager, though there are likely to be numerous demands made by the former Toon centre forward in the wake of such a chastening season’s end.
The most pressing issue, it would appear, would be playing staff. Only the most naïve of supporters would expect anything less than a revolution with regards to the squad at Newcastle, Shearer bought none of the players available to him, and has been fiercely critical of the side’s performances, even before he was responsible for them.
With high earners like “The Premier League’s top strikeforce 2001”, or Michael Owen & Mark Viduka to give them their proper title, out of contract and showing no sign of penning a new one (if indeed they have even been offered one), and other players such as Obafemi Martins, Sebastian Bassong, Jonas Gutierrez & Fabricio Coloccini already seemingly packing up their washbag and heading for the exit, not to mention the ongoing anger management case that is Joey Barton, Newcastle will require plenty of new faces. Would you be confident in a strikeforce of Andy Carroll & Shola Ameobi, even at home to Scunthorpe? Shearer may be able to attract a decent calibre of player through name alone, his aura has already been spoken about in glowing terms by some within the club, but will surely want reassurances about the club’s finances from Ashley before committing to such an overhaul. The ongoing confusion surrounding the owner’s commitment to the club may prove a cloud on this particular horizon.
Yet despite what you may be reading currently, it isn’t all doom and gloom on Tyneside. A slide that began with one defeat at Villa Park (Sir Bobby Robson’s last game in charge in August 2004) and culminated in another on Sunday, may be about to be halted. They say you have to go down to come back up, and with Shearer expected to be granted the kind of autonomy that has served the likes of Sir Alex Ferguson, Arsene Wenger & David Moyes so well in recent years, Newcastle’s supporters can be cautiously optimistic that the first steps towards resuscitation are being taken.
And despite just seven wins in thirty eight league games this season, there are some promising signs within the playing staff. Steve Harper may not be Shay Given, despite what people may tell you, but he is a solid enough keeper and will be among the best in the second tier next season, Steven Taylor is a captain of the future and a player whose commitment to the cause is unquestionable, whilst his namesake Ryan has shone at a similar level in the past for Tranmere and will be looking to improve on a patchy start to his Toon career. In midfield, Danny Guthrie offers craft and composure in equal measures and would be expected to flourish at Championship level, whilst Duff has seemingly put his injury headaches firmly behind him, and will be a major asset next season. The likes of Habib Beye, Kevin Nolan Nicky Butt and even Alan Smith, assuming they stay at the club, will also offer plenty by way of experience and grit in a hugely competitive league.
Of course all of this is speculative at this point. The big issue is who goes and who stays, starting with the manager himself. Shearer will not be holding out much hope in convincing players to take salary cuts, and with reputations shredded by the lacklustre results and performances this term, offloading players will not be as easy as some suspect. With the youth system at Newcastle producing few players of sufficient quality- Taylor the one notable exception- Shearer knows that new faces will need to be brought in. Some shrewd loan deals- think of Sebastian Larsson, Nicklas Bendtner & Fabrice Muamba at Birmingham, or Frazier Campbell at Hull for example- would not be the end of the world, whilst injecting some hunger and self-belief into a squad that lacks both is essential.
However, despite a succession of false dawns and misguided hope, it is not unreasonable to surmise that if anyone can inject a bit of professionalism, a bit of solidity, and a bit of optimism into Tyneside, then that man is Shearer. After all, he did it for ten years as a player.