The Agenda: Cups and Academy kids should never be an after thought

Pop Robson believes that foreign players only see the North East as a potential platform for Manchester and London moves

Sascha Steinbach/Bongarts/Getty Images Goalkeeper Frederick Woodman of England
Goalkeeper Frederick Woodman of England

Bryan ‘Pop’ Robson’s career was a story of hard work, ability and an unerring ability and determination to overturn the odds.

A hero at both Sunderland and Newcastle? Check. A towering presence in the air despite his diminutive height? He had that too. Saving the Rokerites from relegation at the grand old age of 38 on the final day of the 1983/4 season must have seemed like a doddle to the man dubbed ‘Pop’.

So it is no wonder that he sees the Magpies’ decision to effectively surrender their cup ambitions as a bit of a cop-out.

Last week’s stated position on the knockout competitions soured the summer mood when Newcastle should have been drawing a line under the problems of last season. They will invest – indeed they are already close to brokering deals for several players – but they are already starting on the back foot after a ham-fisted attempt to argue their case for the league being the be-all and end-all.

Of course Premier League safety is the only thing that matters to most clubs. With £65million on offer to the team that finishes bottom, it would not make sense for any club to look to lift a piece of silverware when there is so much at stake.

But actually coming out and saying it? Robson sees that as an unfair slap in the face for supporters who have had to swallow plenty.

“You can’t have 52,000 at Newcastle and 42,000 at Sunderland and expect them to watch some of the performances that they had to watch last season,” he said. “In the second half of the season in particular, I thought Newcastle were really, really poor. It looked like one or two of the players there had lost a bit of the enthusiasm that they had. I think what they said about cups was a disgrace, really.

“I play golf around Newcastle still and the supporters are upset at that and I can understand why.

“It has been a long, long time since they won anything and they are disappointed with that attitude. I can’t understand that situation at all. It is one of the biggest chances that the club has to go and win something and they’ve said they don’t consider it a priority.

Action Images / Andrew Boyers Newcastle United manager Alan Pardew
Newcastle United manager Alan Pardew

“Whatever the manager says, I’ve never understood putting a weaker first XI out and then having your strong players on the bench.

“Why don’t you just start the game with your stronger players and then you can bring them off if you’re winning the game?”

The mood makes it treacherous for Pardew, who was given a difficult ride by Newcastle fans at the end of last season.

Robson has sympathy with what happened to him – “they should have invested more when the team finished fifth,” he candidly admits – but he also thinks that Pardew’s future will be right back at the top of the agenda if things don’t start well next season.

“The problem for Alan Pardew is that if he starts next season and doesn’t win a few games, the atmosphere is going to be really, really cruel on him,” he said.

“That is a fact and it makes it really, really difficult for Alan. Newcastle can’t get away from that.”

One thing that he doesn’t understand is Newcastle’s move away from the wide men that were once such a key part of their system and style.

The sale of Yohan Cabaye weakened them in the middle of the park but the other thing that Robson noticed was that Newcastle hardly ever crossed the ball last season. It was a puzzling development for a man who loved feeding off crosses.

“For a while they had a really, really good spine of the side at Newcastle. Cabaye was quality, Tiote as well and Demba Ba and (Papiss) Cisse up front were strong,” he said. “But I just didn’t see them getting any crosses in. Debuchy was getting forward really well but there wasn’t a wide man.

Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images Yohan Cabaye of PSG in action
Yohan Cabaye of PSG in action

“They were getting a lot more crosses in when Jose Enrique and Jonas Gutierrez were there. I wonder if that is something that they will look at next season.”

With the signing of Ayoze Perez this week, it appears as if Newcastle – despite the wishes of Pardew – are going to again look to the overseas market to try to bolster their squads.

Robson spent years jetting around the globe looking for players for Sunderland and Chelsea among others but he is certain that a homegrown player offers better value in the long-term – if they have are given chances to prove their quality and illustrate they can fulfil their potential.

“I think there is a place for foreign players and they have always been cheaper options, that is a fact,” he said. “But they have to be better than what we have at our clubs and I’m not sure that is always the case. I think sometimes we are not prepared to find out what we have our Academies but they have got to be given a chance to see if they are good enough.

“They need an opportunity to show what they can do and if they are good enough then you’re guaranteed a player who knows a bit more about the club.

“A club needs a heartbeat and an Academy player who comes through can be a part of that.

“I think with a foreign player you have to be honest, the vast majority of them who come to the North East will want to look at going to Manchester or London within a couple of years if they manage to perform here. That is the truth and it is something that we have to be a bit honest about.

“But the least you want from those players is a couple of really good years from them, like Newcastle got with Yohan Cabaye. My worry is that some of the players who have come to the region for a lot of money haven’t even been able to give that.”

As Sunderland and Newcastle prepare complete overhauls this summer, that is a message that should be heeded by both clubs as they rush to the market.


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