Uncertainty continues to cloud the future of Newcastle United and Joe Kinnear. But, while the interim manager wants answers before the end of the month, he says past experience means he is taking it all in his stride. Mark Douglas reports
FOR months, the most serious charge levelled at Newcastle United was a lack of communication with supporters.
Now, thanks to the most wonderfully indiscreet manager in the Premier League, it is no longer the case. But for all the regular bulletins delivered by Joe Kinnear on the tortuous takeover process, the latest of which concerns an apparently critical meeting following the trip to Stamford Bridge, the future of Newcastle United remains clouded in a thick fog of confusion.
Providing Kinnear’s information was correct, it will be the critical three weeks of the season for the club – both on and off the pitch.
With the prevailing economic climate making all but the richest of tycoons balk at the prospect of buying an expensive football club with no immediate prospects of qualifying for the Champions League, Mike Ashley’s hopes of a quick sale have evaporated.
The club will still be sold – Ashley’s path back to St James’s Park, after all, is blocked by strong supporter resentment at his handling of United’s affairs over the last 11 months – but a medium-term compromise must be created from the wreckage that followed Kevin Keegan’s departure two months’ ago.
That is likely to amount to asking Kinnear to work until the end of the season with no long-term guarantees, and providing a limited budget for player recruitment in January.
But even that may be undermined by Kinnear’s apparent agitation at being asked to continue working on a week-to-week basis when his stock is high enough to put him in the running for Championship or high end League One or League Two vacancies.
While he remains committed to the post until November 22 and the visit to Chelsea, Kinnear wants more firm commitments from Ashley and Derek Llambias – particularly when he retains the belief that four players must be bought in January to rubber-stamp United’s safety.
Not for the first time, United’s preparation for a crucial game is dominated by off-field developments likely to ramp up the concerns of supporters.
The uncertainty is damaging, particularly at a time when it is essential the focus is trained solely on football matters.
Newcastle have been plunged back into relegation trouble over the weekend – United sit bottom of the league, with Stoke City, Tottenham Hotspur and Bolton Wanderers all winning – and taking points off Aston Villa will not be a straightforward task.
As welcome as the three points against West Brom was, there was vulnerability to United’s play that must worry Kinnear as he prepares for a game against the most dangerous side outside the Premier League’s big four.
United’s interim manager has been working with Steven Taylor and Fabricio Coloccini, who look at risk when forwards make direct runs at them, to shore up the back four for the visit of Aston Villa, who arrive in Tyneside with two of the hottest young forwards in English football in Gabriel Agbonlahor and Ashley Young.
Mindful that his options are greatly improved as a result of Michael Owen and Nicky Butt’s return to fitness, Kinnear retains the belief that Villa are beatable.
“I feel very optimistic of getting a result, especially playing at home,” he said.
Perhaps it is no surprise that Kinnear has barely flinched in the face of adversity since taking the reins at St James’s Park.
While his extensive experience battling the odds at Wimbledon is well-documented, United’s combative interim manager also had a less well-known spell learning the managerial trade as boss of Nepal in 1987.
Perhaps when you have seen the top of Everest at daybreak, even the figurative mountain that Newcastle United have had to climb since the departure of Keegan seems trifling in comparison. “I was in Nepal for two years as their national coach. It was an amazing experience. You have to do it when you are young. I don’t think I would do something like that now but I am glad I did it, saw it, and roamed around. It was an education,” he said.
“You are spoiled as a footballer. I have had to do it the hard way as a manger. I had 18 years in the top flight, five Cup finals, two European finals and I won them all.
“Then you go onto coaching and learn your trade.
“With those experiences, nothing can surprise me. I am quite a confident and optimistic person so I am ok with life.”
Kinnear’s Nepal, who he trained at the base of Mount Everest, won a silver medal at the South Asian Games of 1987.
“Most of the players I had were Gurkhas,” he said.
“We played in World Cup qualifiers with Nepal. There would be 80,000 at every game and they would queue up for days to get a ticket.
“We would play tournaments in India, it is a cricket country but you would be amazed. People would sleep in the street to get a ticket.
“We trained at the foot of Mount Everest. There was a hotel right near and you could see it as you looked outside of your window. Incredible place. I have been up to the top of the mountain – right to the top and right across the Anapere range. I got taken up in a private jet.
“Did I climb it? You must be kidding. I went up about three in the morning when the sun sets, it was sensational. Went all the way down to Tibet, turned left and came all the way back again.’’