For all of his talk about the steep learning curve involved in the difference between supporting a football club and managing a football club, the Newcastle United owner Mike Ashley doesn’t seem to have learnt very much over the last few months. When he first took control at St James Park, he installed Kevin Keegan in a decision that seemed to come from the heart rather than the head. Keegan’s time in charge wasn’t far short of an unmitigated disaster (and ended, predictably, in Keegan walking out) and now, after a strange interlude during which Joe Kinnear and Chris Hughton have been in charge of the team, he’s repeated his initial trick in installing Alan Shearer as the manager.
For Shearer, this is a no lose deal. He will earn £1m for the rest of the season, and is reported to be set for a bonus of a further £1m should they stay up. If he manages this, his reputation on Tyneside will be further enshrined and, if he fails, he has the pre-made excuse that Newcastle this season are already a lost cause. His friends in the press seem to think that Shearer is such a great manager that Newcastle won’t just avoid relegation this season, but also have half a chance of making it into the UEFA Cup before next month. The usual suspects are all there. For the BBC, Alan Hansen has already confirmed that he has “all the right attributes” for the job, while the tiresome Geordie Nation division have been giving it their all about his inherent Geordieness being enough for him to steer them back to “where they belong”, wherever the hell that is.
The most worrying sight of the week was that of Paul Gascoigne, who was interviewed on the television over the appointment. Much of what he said was the usual clicheed nonsense, but but he looked like an over made up cadaver. Switching the set on to see him there looking like that was quite a startling experience. Gascoigne, however, remains a pertinent reference point for Shearer. He was assigned to a managerial position on the basis of his reputation as a player (at Kettering Town) and was sacked a few weeks later when the extent of his drink problem became apparent.
Shearer, obviously, doesn’t have the personal baggage that Gascoigne carried with him. He is, however, also in this position on the basis of past reputation and football’s enduring obsession with “celebrity”. I have said on here before that this season is a critical one for relegation endangered clubs. Given the current national and global financial situation, clubs simply cannot afford to get relegated this season, and bringing in a big name from the club’s past with no managerial experience whatsoever seems like a reckless move. He might turn out to be a managerial genius who steers them to safety and then into the Champions League next season. On the other hand, though, he might not, and Newcastle’s long suffering supporters should be questioning why a manager with no experience has been brought into a club in such a critical condition.