'United job is no poisoned chalice'

SIR Bobby Robson has dismissed suggestions the manager’s job at Newcastle United has become a poisoned chalice as he delivered a powerful defence of the embattled football club and its beleaguered supporters.

Sir Bobby Robson

SIR Bobby Robson has dismissed suggestions the manager’s job at Newcastle United has become a poisoned chalice as he delivered a powerful defence of the embattled football club and its beleaguered supporters.

With United’s owner Mike Ashley looking to sell the club following the row which erupted over the departure of manager Kevin Keegan last month, Newcastle’s reputation has taken a severe bashing this season.

But Robson is adamant the troubled club is special in European football, and argued everything is still in place for a manager who can deal with the unique pressure which comes with the job at St James’s Park.

“Other managers, most with an elevated profile, have struggled at Newcastle, but I certainly do not regard it as some sort of poison chalice,” said Robson in his new book Newcastle: My Kind Of Toon. “It really should work. It has been a buying club, chairmen have attempted to find money for their managers, they have a fantastic public and a full ground. It is my opinion that only Manchester United and Arsenal have bigger names and stadiums. Newcastle may not have Chelsea’s finances, but we’re a bigger club.

“It’s all there for a manager to be successful, provided he makes sensible buys, knows the game well, is tactically adept and can motivate players and enforce discipline. But relationships are vital.

“The manager and his directors are crucial to each other. If it’s a good partnership and they are backing each other up, if the scouting network is solid and the purchase of players is sensible and correct, there’s no reason why Newcastle can’t be in the top five or six every season.

“The fact they haven’t got that far tells its own story. Managers are not magicians and we need proper tools to do our jobs, not wands. The most crucial aspect, as it always has been, is being given significant time on the grass.”

Newcastle were forced to turn to Joe Kinnear as an emergency interim manager a fortnight ago as their search for a permanent replacement for Keegan

was fatally undermined by Ashley’s determination to sell.

Kinnear appears to have steadied a team which had lost its last five games before the 2-2 draw with Everton, and Robson is adamant United will always need a manager with a big personality to handle the problems which are constantly thrown at him.

He said: “I don’t doubt that a young, inexperienced manager coming in to that world would find it a skirmish and a highly difficult proposition. So, for that matter, have many older chaps.

“The highs are higher at Newcastle and the lows are... well, sometimes I could have done with my old pit helmet to explore those depths. I have described the feeling in the town as expectancy, but perhaps there is a better word – yearning.

“With 52,000 yearning fans in the stadium every other week, appeasing them and respecting them, understanding their pride and plugging into their dreams, is a huge responsibility.

“There may not have been cups or titles to celebrate – the next manager to provide them will go down in history as a legend – but for all the reasons I’ve mentioned, Newcastle is a big club and it needs a big manager.”

In an ideal world, Robson would love that man to still be him. When he took over as manager in September 1999 Newcastle were in the bottom three, but in the final three of his five years in charge the Magpies finished fourth, third and fifth in the Premier League.

But the 75-year-old has problems of his own to contend with after he was diagnosed with cancer for the fifth time last year. That inspirational fight prompted him to launch the Sir Bobby Robson Foundation to raise money to build a Cancer Trials Research Centre at Newcastle’s Freeman Hospital, and the former England manager from County Durham is as determined as ever.

He added: “If the North East made me, then the life I’ve lived in football has certainly shaped the character I was given. It’s the nature of the beast that you have to deal with disappointment, but that’s what it is – it’s not adversity or disaster.

“Losing matches in such a highly-competitive environment hurts like hell, but you learn that seven days later you’ll have another game, another opportunity to win.

“Managers become men of steel because you develop the ability to take a hit, get back up and fight again. Whatever faces you, face it. Come out swinging. To survive you have to do that. I’ve always been a fighter.

“Without that quality, you won’t get very far.”


David Whetstone
Culture Editor
Graeme Whitfield
Business Editor
Mark Douglas
Newcastle United Editor
Stuart Rayner
Sports Writer