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50-50: Liverpool vs. Real Madrid

Champions League 9 hours ago
Read
Aug 6, 2007

Magpies look to Big Sam for success

Newcastle United fans will hope that the recent upheaval, which has seen a change of ownership and management as well as an overhaul of the playing squad, will finally bring a change in fortunes.

Glenn Roeder departed St James' Park shortly before the end of a campaign which had seen the club finish as low as it ever had done in the Premier League, 14th. Within days Sam Allardyce, fresh from his hugely successful tenure at Bolton Wanderers, was installed at the helm.

Now Allardyce becomes the latest man who must try and put right the wrongs of a previous manager, although the appointment of Roeder could never be viewed as long term he was luckless.

Newcastle's 2006/07 season got off to the worst possible start before it even began when Michael Owen suffered a serious knee injury on England duty against Sweden at the World Cup finals. It meant a player who had barely played for them since moving from Real Madrid for £16million in 2005 would miss all but three matches of the season.

Coupled with the retirement of Alan Shearer, Newcastle had been handed a huge double blow. They then spent £10million on Inter Milan's Obefemi Martins only to have their options reduced once more by a hip injury to Shola Ameobi which would rule him out for most of the season too.

Another big signing was Damien Duff, picked up at a snip for £5million from Chelsea. But he was a disappointment on the left flank, as injury limited him to just 20 Premier League starts and his form deserted him.

Their injury ills were not reserved purely for attacking players. Shay Given spent a chunk of the season in the treatment room and such were the problems in defence that youngsters David Edgar, Matthew Pattison and Paul Huntington were drafted in - while Nolberto Solano had to spend much of the campaign as an auxiliary right-back.

Away from the disappointments of the league campaign, Newcastle had the joys of a UEFA Cup campaign after beating Lillestrom in the InterToto Cup. The Magpies reaching the last 16 before going out on away goals to Dutch side AZ Alkmaar.

The defeat to AZ was a watershed moment for Roeder. They had led 3-0 and 4-1 in the first leg at St James' before conceding a second away goal. Back at the Alkmaarder Hout there was only one team in it as Newcastle surrendered a place in the quarter-finals.

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With Allardyce installed, the changes at Newcastle soon continued as sportswear supremo Mike Ashley began his takeover of the club by buying the shareholding of Sir John Hall. Shortly afterwards he had also purchased Freddy Shepherd's stake to herald in a new era.

It was a change the Newcastle fans had been hoping for - a new direction with fresh blood and deep pockets.

Allardyce did not waste much time in beginning his rebuilding operation for 2007/08. Titus Bramble and Antoine Sibierski were soon jettisoned along with Olivier Bernard, Oguchi Onyewu and Craig Moore.

Club captain Scott Parker was the biggest names to exit the club as Allardyce granted his wish to return south. He had made it abundantly clear everyone would be pulling in the same direction.

There is now uncertainty over the destiny of Kieron Dyer after his move to join Parker at West Ham collapsed at the 11th hour. It is clear Dyer does not feel his future lies on Tyneside but how the club feel may be a different matter. In truth, £6million for a perennially injured player is not a bad deal.

Despite all his achievements with Bolton, Allardyce faces a whole new ball game at Newcastle. He must transform the mentality of a side which has become used to mediocrity amidst the huge expectations of a passionate Geordie faithful. The new found wealth from the Ashley millions will only intensify the fans' demands but they must be prepared to be patient.

Although the new boss has brought in several new faces he has already suffered from the club's woeful injury jinx. Joey Barton, brought in from the cold at Manchester City following his much publicised training ground altercation with Ousmane Dabo, suffered a broken metatarsal in the pre-season campaign to rule him out of the opening weeks of the Premier League campaign at least.

If the Magpies were short on attacking options in 2006/07, it's all change for the coming campaign. Despite intense rumours about the futures of Owen - expect him, if fit, to move to a Champions League club in January - and Martins, they are likely to stay at the club after the closure of the current transfer window.

And with Mark Viduka and Alan Smith adding intense competition for a place up front there will be no room for complacency though much will also depend on Owen actually staying fit enough to kick a ball in the black and white after 13 Premier League starts in two seasons.

One of Big Sam's biggest tasks will be to sort out the defence, which has infamously been, at best, comedic over the last decade and his rebuilding on that front began with highly-rated Czech defender David Rozehnal from Paris St Germain and the unknown quantity of Brazilian Claudio Cacapa - who seems a typical Allardyce pick-n-mix signing. Geremi, on a free transfer, will also add much-needed versatility to the squad.

Allardyce's rebulding job, however, is far from done and there are sure to be further new faces in the rearguard before the end of the month. Villarreal left-back Jose Enrique is tipped to move from La Liga. The job then is to create a cohesive unit.

Newcastle's fans will be expecting a place in the UEFA Cup for next season which means Allardyce will have to produce a high top-half finish or produce a Cup run. Allardyce has never been famed for his domestic cup prowess which means he is going to have to find his feet quickly.

In truth, it may take Allardyce an extra season to mould the squad into shape - which includes getting the players used to his managerial methods of dietary structure and meticulous strategic planning.

The Newcastle fans must be patient and put their faith in a manager who has shown he knows how to build an empire.


  • Any comments? Email Dale Johnson