Well, considering that it was such a badly kept secret, the sacking of Sam Allardyce from Newcastle United is still something of a surprise, thanks in no small part to the fact that it is such a staggeringly stupid decision, and is such a staggeringly stupid decision on so many levels. Amazing. There seems to be no extent that the directors of that club won’t go to in order to make their club a laughing stock but, whereas I would normally express my sympathy to the poor, down-trodden supporters of the club concerned, I can do no such thing this time, because Newcastle’s supporters have been wholly complicit in this whole, ridiculous affair. The biggest complaints coming from St James Park over the last few weeks have come from the terraces (regarding the quality of football that Newcastle have been playing), from people who seem singularly incapable of accepting Newcastle’s place in the new world order of English football.
I mean, and I ask this question in all seriousness, who are they going to get that is any better? Allardyce is no great favourite of mine (you’d noticed?), but the idea of getting a better manager, barely half-way through the season, with a team in “turmoil” (as the tabloid press would call it), seems to be the sort of leap of imagination that would normally be reserved largely for people that one might describe as “mentally interesting”. Harry Redknapp is the bookmakers’ favourite, but why would he want to decamp from his home on the south coast and the good work that he is doing at Portsmouth? Why would Mark Hughes want to leave Blackburn to try and sort this mess out when he’s building a decent team (albeit one that can’t do anything in the cups) at Blackburn? No Premier League manager that is any good is going to go there. It’s a managerial graveyard. I asked a Newcastle supporter the other week this simple question: when was the last time that a Newcastle manager went on to a better job having managed Newcastle? His answer was Gordon Lee, who went from St James Park to Everton in 1977. In other words, it’s over thirty years since a Newcastle manager was deemed to have succeeded sufficiently to have a better offer made to them. Looking down the bookmakers’ lists must make dispiriting reading for Newcastle supporters. Alan Shearer is the second favourite (primarily because he has made noises that he would like the job, in spite of having no managerial experience whatsoever), and then you’re down to the likes of Martin Jol, Terry Venables and Tony Mowbray. This is the problem with replacing your manager after Christmas – no-one in a decent job is going to want to take over your club if it’s in a mess.
This decision isn’t a nightmare from a purely footballing point of view, although it doesn’t make any sense in this respect. Newcastle are in eleventh place in the Premier League at the moment, which is about their average league place over the last three or four years, or so. Allardyce’s time at Newcastle, therefore, hasn’t been successful, by any stretch of the imagination, but it hasn’t been a disaster either. Off the pitch, it’s going to be expensive for Newcastle. Such was their faith in him when they offered him the job that they allowed him to bring in a massive back-room staff (I’ve seen the number of people quoted as thirty-two). There’s a good chance that the vast majority of them may have to go, too. The bill could run to tens of millions of pounds, if they were all on contracts that were several years long.
I’m inclined to think that Shearer is the ghost that Newcastle have to get out of their system. He’s going to be mentioned, completely without merit, in comparison with every manager that Newcastle have until they get around to taking him on. They might be best off taking him on now and giving him until the end of the season to see if he’s any good or not. I happen to think that I might already know the answer to this question, but I might be wrong, and the alternative might just turn out to be David O’Leary.