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Spalletti's men are a work in progress

Inter Milan

Misery for the Magpies?

A more vociferous and loyal group of fans you would be hard pressed to find, but what will the new season hold for the legions of Geordies bedecked in black and white?

Whether one chooses to be optimistic about Newcastle's season depends largely on your opinion of Glenn Roeder, the new Newcastle United manager, who was controversially allowed to take the Toon hot-seat.

Despite not being in possession of the required coaching badges the Premier League allowed the 50-year-old to take charge after chairman Freddy Shepherd decided to take a risk on the former West Ham United boss.

Roeder initially took charge of the Newcastle first team as caretaker in February after Shepherd finally put the Toon Army out of their misery by bringing an to end Graeme Souness's unsuccessful tenure.

To his credit Roeder managed to transform the energy in a dispirited Newcastle squad and with minimum changes garnered 32 points from the final 15 games of the season and in-so-doing secured a finish in the top half of the table, when before he took over a fight with relegation seemed the more likely outcome for the campaign.

A critic might argue that the points Newcastle accrued under Roeder came against mid-table opposition who had little to challenge for as the season wound down, nevertheless Shepherd was impressed enough to lobby the Premiership in order to get the necessary dispensation for Roeder to take the role on a fulltime basis.

Roeder made his name in management with West Ham United, but his tenure at the Boleyn Ground ended in disappointment.

The beginning of the end came in April 2003. With the pilloried Roeder battling against relegation he collapsed as a result of a brain tumour; his season was over.

Sir Trevor Brooking stepped in to try and prevent the inevitable but unfortunately for the Hammers the damage had been done earlier in the season and despite boasting the talents of Michael Carrick, Joe Cole, Jermain Defoe and David James West Ham were relegated.

Roeder recovered and returned work on a wave of popular sympathy but an inauspicious start to the following season saw him sacked - as he surely would have been had it not been for his unfortunate illness.

It took two years before Roeder resurfaced as youth-development manager at Newcastle, a club he served well as captain during his playing days.

Time will tell if Roeder proves to be the right man for the job or merely a stopgap measure until Newcastle folk hero Alan Shearer submits to what many see as his managerial destiny.

The first challenge for Roeder ahead of the new term was to find a suitable replacement for Shearer as captain; replacing him as a striker will be all but impossible.

Wearing the armband in the new season will be Scott Parker and here one must give credit to Roeder for an inspired choice.

Parker secured his position as fan favourite last season with some remarkable displays of guts and determination, not least against Arsenal at St James Park last season when he damaged his teeth and was knocked semi-unconscious but elected to play on before eventually succumbing to the stretcher and substitution.

The popular 25-year-old is no mean player capable of creating play for his team and destroying it for the opposition; he also boasts a great range of passing, a venomous long-range shot and a good eye for goal.

A brave and robust player who leads by example, Parker must have appeared to Roeder as the perfect replacement for the talismanic Shearer.

Looking at the Newcastle's playing staff there are some grounds for optimism, with talent in several key positions.

In Shay Given Newcastle have one of the Premier League's best goalkeepers, and a player who ran Parker close in the Roeder's mind as the new club captain.

Alongside Parker in midfield are several top class players, including ever-green Peruvian Nolberto Solano, talented Turkish winger Emre and the exceptionally promising Charles N'Zogbia.

Add into that mix new £5-million signing Damien Duff from Chelsea and reports suggesting that Newcastle are on the verge of agreeing a deal for the combative Real Madrid midfielder Thomas Gravesen and the centre of St James' Park looks to be in safe hands.

However, that's where the good news ends because up front and in defence Newcastle have significant problems.

Losing a player of Shearer's quality would undermine any squad, but as a consequence of Shearer's retirement, Michael Owen's injury and Michael Chopra's move to Cardiff the only strikers Newcastle can call on are Shola Ameobi and Albert Luque, neither of whom look capable of providing the necessary firepower at this level.

With the anterior cruciate ligament injury Owen suffered during the World Cup likely to keep him out of action until 2007 the club must sign at least one new striker before the transfer window closes if they are to have chance of mounting a serious attack on the European places.

Then there's the comedy central defensive paring of Titus Bramble and Jean-Alain Boumsong. At times both players have looked like the least tactically astute, least positionally aware and least capable defenders in the league.

Both have suffered the barbs and criticisms of their own fans, away fans and the media. The question must be whether they can recover the confidence that they so clearly need to harness their natural abilities.

So, it is perhaps fair to say that Roeder will have has his work cut out for the new season. With problems at both ends of the pitch he must be hoping that his new skipper can marshal a strong midfield into not only shielding a porous defence but also add attacking options to an under-strength forward line.

If everything goes well and a few new signings can be added to the squad you never know, perhaps Newcastle can challenge for Europe. But if things don't go well this could be a season to forget.

  • Any thoughts? Then you can email Phil Holland.