Bryan Robson is the coalition candidate for North East football.
Counting more than 200 games for Newcastle and a similar amount for Sunderland, his is a voice of authority across the divide – so it should come as no surprise that he presents a close season transfer manifesto to warm the hearts of both clubs.
“After what they’ve just been through, this is a big, big summer for both clubs. Probably more so for Sunderland but Newcastle have a lot of work to do. They need to invest and the priority for both of them is to bring in a playmaker – someone to pick a pass, sit in the middle and run the game,” he said.
“They were both missing that creativity and you could tell Newcastle missed Yohan Cabaye badly when he left to go to Paris Saint Germain. That is where they’ll both be working this summer but it is easier said that done. Those kind of players cost a lot of money.”
Robson should know. He was Sunderland’s Chief Scout until recently, engaged on a long-standing mission to import a red and white version of Cabaye into both Steve Bruce and Martin O’Neill’s Black Cats side.
Sunderland’s lack of creativity at the time was what held them back. They had Lee Cattermole – “A real 110% man capable of giving the best players in the division a run for their money,” Robson reckons – Craig Gardner and Seb Larsson among others who he felt could “do a job” in the engine room.
But then, as now, they need a bit more. “They have done really well for the club but they need to improve and get better and that probably means getting a player who can do a little bit more,” he said.
He had plenty of names on the list – stars he had scouted extensively – but pin-pointing a first-team ready prospect and delivering him turned out to be two different things.
He fears that with budgetary constraints and a ever decreasing market, it could be tough for the North East to bring in. “It is the hardest position to recruit,” he said. “A player in that position has to have the confidence to take the ball on. Look at Cabaye, he would always have the confidence to do things when the team aren’t playing well. That is something that is quite rare.
“Bringing in those kind of players is difficult, especially when you’ve only got a certain amount of money. You end up trying to nick players.
“It is easy to go out and pick Eden Hazard and go and pick those kind of players because everyone can see them but it is the ones just under that level who maybe have the potential to go and improve who are the real gems.
“There’s fewer players and everyone is chasing the same players too. Everyone knows about the players and there’s no surprises anymore. The element of surprise has gone out of scouting a bit. It’s a tougher job which might explain why it is harder in the North East now.
“I always really liked the Dutch market. They are technically very good and they’ve got an excellent mentality. It is the same with Swedish players. Sometimes you can get the best player in the world from some countries but the North East can be cold, wet and by November they’ve had a culture shock. It’s a difficult job.”
Robson knows Graham Carr, Newcastle’s renowned talent spotter, and feels that if anyone can, he can bring the best to Tyneside.
“Graham is brilliant at that job. He’s done the hard work and he knows how to spot a player and has the knowledge to do it,” Robson said.
“He is out there every weekend watching players, talking to people, watching games.
“You can’t do your work off DVDs or recommendations, you need to be out there watching what is going on. He’s one of the best in the business and Newcastle have to allow him to do his job in my opinion.”
Robson’s stint at Sunderland ended a year ago as Ellis Short applied shock therapy to the Black Cats and cleaned out the scouting department. Di Canio was already there by then, and actually doing quite well at the time.
Given that he left while the Italian was there, his reaction to the change might surprise you. “I thought it was a good appointment at the start. I thought he would work harder on the training ground and would get the team playing more attacking football, which is what happened at first.
“But it didn’t go forward any more and he just became a control freak really.
“It was ridiculous how he was going on and he lost the spirit and he lost the dressing room. There was no heartbeat to the squad. When he needed them to work for him, there was nothing there.
“You just can’t have that because you’re going to go behind in Premier League games and if you haven’t got the dressing room with you then you’ve got absolutely no chance.”
There are encouraging words for Sunderland’s new sporting director, recruited to help
“I was with Lee Congerton at Chelsea, along with Frank Arnesen. He’s got good contacts, he’s a good appointment for that job but it is really about whether the money is there,” he said.
“I think it will probably be a case of selling to buy again, which makes it difficult.
“Gus will probably want more input too, which adds another factor there.”