STEVE Harper will bid farewell to Newcastle United on Sunday with a warning that the club needs to overcome its “bipolar” tendencies and discover a bit more black and white middle-ground in the future.
Harper will leave United just shy of his 200th game in black and white after 20 years of service that has seen him play under 12 managers and experience both the highs of the Champions League and the lows of a relegation to the Championship.
This year has seen the black and white pendulum swing from the high of a Europa League last-eight place to the low of a derby day defeat and the subsequent relegation battle.
Drawing on two decades spent at the eye of the storm, Harper is as well placed as anyone to comment on what needs to change for Newcastle to finally achieve that elusive success.
“I think rollercoaster is the word. I do not know how to describe it,” he said.
“It’s almost a bipolar football club, isn’t it? You are either heading and reaching for the stars like the Champions League or you are going to be relegated.
“There is not enough middle ground at Newcastle. It is almost not acceptable to be doing all right. It’s either everything is rosy or the world is caving in. There needs to be more of that sort of ‘We’re doing all right’.”
This year has been a case-in-point. United soared into fifth-place last season but then through a combination of poor decisions and bad luck, found themselves confronted with a relegation battle in the spring.
Harper feels that the club were punished for “standing still” in the close season, and hopes that lessons have been learned and they will improve again in his absence.
He said: “We probably over-achieved last season and underachieved this season. If we’d finished ninth or 10th, people would have said we’ve had two steady seasons, but it’s almost that bipolar element of the club and the extremes that happen have been a bit evident again.
“It has been tough this year, having finished fifth last season. If you stand still in football then you come back down a peg or two and that’s what’s happened here.
“They rectified it in January and they managed to do the primary aim which turned out to be staying in the division and I’m sure lessons have been learned across the board and the club can get back into the top half of the table next year.”
As for Harper, he is keeping his options open in the close season and could play on at a high level.
He has had “a couple” of enquiries about his availability but has not heard anything from Hartlepool United about the vacant managerial job that he was linked with last week.
That is not to say that he is not interested in the role at Victoria Park, which is currently tipped to go to Middlesbrough coach Colin Cooper.
“I’ve got family in Hartlepool and I probably go to a couple of games a season there,” he said. “I am doing my coaching badges and I know Ken Hodcroft and Russ Green and I think people have put two and two together and got five because I’ve not made anything about it.
“It’s obviously been whispered about and would I be interested? Hartlepool is a great club and of course I’d be interested, but whether it’s a bit early or not ...
“I see Colin Cooper has been linked with it and he’s a great guy and a real football gentleman, who is local and would know the club and he’s been a coach for a long time. Someone said I was in at 5/1 – it wasn’t me putting that money on! But I wouldn’t rule anything out in the future.”
Arsenal, meanwhile, look set to be without midfielder Mikel Arteta (calf) at Newcastle on Sunday.
Jack Wilshere (pictured below), set for summer surgery to clear up a niggling ankle problem, is on stand-by having started on the bench in recent weeks.
Striker Olivier Giroud will be available again following a three-match suspension. Wenger said: “Honestly, Arteta’s chances of being available are minimal.”