Search on after Souness is finally shown the door
Newcastle chairman Freddy Shepherd today launched a search for the fifth manager of his reign after asking skipper Alan Shearer to help drag his side out of a relegation fight.
Shepherd's decision to sack Graeme Souness was not unexpected, and came today within hours of last night's dreadful 3-0 Barclays Premiership defeat at Manchester City, which left the Magpies 15th in the league table and just six points clear of third-bottom Birmingham.
Academy chief Glenn Roeder will be in charge for Saturday's vital league clash with struggling Portsmouth at St James' Park, with 35-year-old Shearer having taken a further step towards the hot-seat after being asked to assist the caretaker boss.
'I am obviously saddened at the way things have worked out at St James Park,' said Souness in a brief statement. 'I have enjoyed living and working in Newcastle, and my family and I have been made to feel particularly welcome by the Geordies.
'I wish the club, the players and the supporters good fortune and success going forward.'
Souness is a thoroughly decent man who threw himself into his job, but ultimately, was unable to produce either the football or the results the club required.
Shearer has been quoted as a 10-1 shot by bookmakers Ladbrokes to get the job one a permanent basis, with Sam Allardyce a 5-4 favourite, although Martin O'Neill is the name on the lips of fans desperate for success with their wait for silverware now extending to 37 years.
But whether it is Shearer, Allardyce, O'Neill, Guus Hiddink, Sven-Goran Eriksson or anyone else who takes over, Shepherd knows he must make the right appointment after a difficult 17 months with Souness at the helm.
The Scot's departure was confirmed this morning in a brief statement from the club.
'Newcastle United today announced that the employment of Graeme Souness has been terminated with immediate effect,' it read.
'Glenn Roeder will take charge of first team affairs for the immediate future. Roeder will be assisted by captain Alan Shearer and will be caretaker manager for Saturday's home Premiership game against Portsmouth at St James' Park.'
It had seemed only a matter of time after fans staged a lengthy protest following the 1-0 home defeat by Blackburn on January 21, with last night's defeat at Eastlands meaning they have taken only one point from the last 18 on offer and are without a Premiership win since December 17.
That was simply not good enough for a manager who had been given £50million with which to rebuild his squad and then been charged with the task of securing a top-six finish after last season's disappointing slump into 14th place.
In truth, many fans never believed he was the right man for the job, citing his habit of falling out with players and his safety-first approach, and despite his assurances that both suggestions were wrong, they were to ring depressingly true.
Even as he launched his reign with seven victories and two draws before the wheels came off at Bolton, the thrilling football of the Sir Bobby Robson era was missing, and when the club's defensive frailties were once again exposed, he could do little about it.
Injuries have taken a crippling toll on the Magpies this season, but despite heavy spending, the current squad is actually weaker in depth than the one he inherited.
Souness' relationship with striker Craig Bellamy was always an accident waiting to happen, and when the inevitable transpired, he gave the Welshman enough rope with which to hang himself and then dispatched him, first to Celtic and then to Blackburn.
It cost Newcastle £17million to replace Bellamy with Michael Owen, and while his fractured metatarsal was down to plain bad luck, there was a feeling that too many eggs had been placed in the same basket.
Laurent Robert too was to follow with Souness furious with his lack of industry, although £9.5million replacement Albert Luque has come nowhere near providing the quality or enterprise of the inconsistent, but gifted Frenchman, while £8million defender Jean-Alain Boumsong has endured a disastrous first 13 months on Tyneside.
But it is perhaps the departure of blossoming midfielder Jermaine Jenas for Tottenham last summer amid claims that his career had stalled under the Scot, which is perhaps the most damning indictment of his tenure.
'To be fair to him, he's been rocked by injuries and you have got sympathy with him when it comes to that, but you can only blame injuries for so long,' said former Newcastle and Republic of Ireland defender John Anderson.
'Then you have got to get on with what you have got. Everybody knew it was going to happen. It was inevitable.'
Anderson believes Shearer, who will go into Saturday's game still looking for his club record 201st goal, can play a key role over the next few days and weeks as the fightback is launched.
'Without a shadow of a doubt,' he said. 'He's a senior player, he's a man everybody looks up to,' he said. 'When he speaks, people listen.
'Glenn learned an awful lot when he was at West Ham, and he's been at the club as a player, he knows what's expected, knows what the fans are all about and has a feeling for the club already. It could be a good partnership, even if it's only short-term.'
Shearer's former team-mate Steve Howey admits Shearer has been destined for the biggest job for some time.
'When I was there, everybody used to mention it,' he told Sky Sports News. 'He kind of let it wash off, but in Alan's mind from day one, he always wanted to go on that path.
'Its a dream come true for him to play for the club and break records, but that will be amazing for him if he can manage the club as well.
'I'm sure Glenn and Alan will steady the ship and hopefully they can see the season out.
'What Alan has done at the club is absolutely fantastic. Everyone knows, though, that just because you're a fantastic player you're not necessarily going to be a fantastic manager.
'But he's seen it, done it and got the T-shirt, and he may get a respite from the fans.'