ALAN Shearer has warned that Newcastle United could replicate Leeds' dramatic fall from grace unless Mike Ashley takes "big decisions" and initiates a root and branch overhaul of the club.
A tame United surrendered their Premier League status after Damien Duff’s unfortunate 38th-minute own goal at Villa Park, and Shearer confessed afterwards that the club could have few complaints about relegation.
The United caretaker manager has been unable to inspire a turnaround in the club’s fortunes in his eight-game spell, which ended yesterday. But he remains the choice of both owner Ashley and the supporters to take over permanently from Joe Kinnear.
The pair will meet this week to discuss the way forward with Shearer looking for assurances that investment will be made in the club – and that Ashley will not attempt to broker a quick sale after this dreadful season.
Otherwise he can foresee the same kind of downward spiral that has seen the once mighty Leeds scrapping in the third tier of English football.
"I think a lot of people will try to make a comparison (to the situation at Leeds)," said Shearer.
"It depends on where people want the football club to go.
"The reality is that we will be starting next season in the Championship. The expectation will be huge, but there’s a lot of work needed between now and then.
"There are huge problems at the football club – I think that’s clear for everyone to see. Relegation isn’t about today, it’s about what’s gone on this season, last season and the season before. It’s a culmination of everything. In the end, the three worst teams go down and, unfortunately, Newcastle are one of them." Clearly, a radical overhaul will take place this summer – with United desperately trying to trim their wage bill of nearly £80m to try to offset the loss of Premier League revenue.
Michael Owen and Mark Viduka are certain to leave when their bumper contracts expire next month, while question marks remain over other big earners like Obafemi Martins, Alan Smith, Joey Barton, Damien Duff and Fabricio Coloccini, on an estimated £80,000 a week.
Shearer admitted to being "shocked" at the state of disrepair the club was in when he took over, although he hinted that he would be prepared to take big decisions in the summer.
He had told the players in the dressing room afterwards that none of them had fulfilled their potential.
"The guys at the top have big decisions to make," he said. "I’ll sit down with the owners and chairman this week and give my opinions. Big decisions need to be made – players need to go, players need to come in.
"What needs to change? A hell of a lot. There’s a million things you can look at this season, last season, and going back a long way that haven’t been right.
"I’m not blaming anyone – it’s happened – but what’s important is that the club gets back on track."
Shearer remained largely non- committal on his future and even raised the possibility that he may not be wanted after failing to earn the required number of points during his brief spell in charge.
United have won just five points out of a possible 24 since Shearer took over from Chris Hughton, who was in his second spell as caretaker.
"I know you won’t believe me, but I honestly haven’t had time to sit down and think about what my future will be," said Shearer.
"I haven’t thought about what would be the right thing for the football club.
"But I’m hurting. I take my share of responsibility for what’s happened, and feel sorry that I’ve let those wonderful supporters down.
"I have a tremendous relationship with the supporters, for whatever reason, and I’ve worked very, very hard to try to rectify the situation. It hasn’t worked for a variety of reasons, and I regret that.
"I’m raw inside, as are a lot of people involved in the club.
"But the simple fact of the matter is that big mistakes have been made and we’re paying the price for that now."