Football: Going Dutch the key to game of patience

Click to follow
The Independent Online
We expect a little entrepreneurial eccentricity from the bastions of our national games while they jostle for position and power but the astonishing events at Newcastle United over the past few days would not have comforted those who tend to side with the clubs in the great battle for control now being fought in football and rugby union.

Much as we may admire the ability of Ruud Gullit to sprinkle large handfuls of his charisma around, it was difficult to identify any significant sign of sanity and balance amid the revolution taking place at St James' Park.

The abruptness of it all helped to emphasise the culture shock embodied in the change between the dour 19-month reign of Kenny Dalglish and the promised high and happy velocity of the adventurous spirit that keeps Gullit's dreadlocks constantly on the move.

I have yet to read an explanation of how the players are going to be primed to make the lunge from one mind-set to the other in time to meet Liverpool this afternoon but I could not help noticing a plea buried at the end of Gullit's response to his new challenge. "All I ask from the Newcastle fans is to be patient," he said.

Does he realise what he's demanding? A million pounds a year? No problem.

The biggest mansion on Tyneside? He only has to ask.

A lovely young lady? One or two of the Newcastle directors would be glad to fix him up - a decent one, too, not a Newcastle "dog".

But patience? He must be joking.

Not only is it a word fast becoming obsolete in the Premiership, the opposite is beginning to apply. Indeed, it is impatience that has propelled Gullit back into the top flight from which Chelsea so noisi1y and rudely arranged his departure six months ago. Not his impatience particularly - although his agent has spent a fortune on phone calls while touting him around clubs - but that of the Newcastle directors who were tired of Dalglish but at a loss to know what to do before the Dutchman was dropped into their laps.

What is being presented as an inspired move was more of a convenient confluence of two forces, club and manager, in search of urgent remedial work on their reputations. And, ironically, so high are the expectations now raised in Newcastle that impatience may well be their undoing. Gullit can expect even less time than his predecessor to work the miracle.

Dalglish's time at St James' can hardly be called a failure. Newcastle qualified for the European Champions' League in his first season and reached the the FA Cup final in his second but neither his demeanour nor his tactical approach created the excitement the club's supporters yearned for. But Dalglish's management style is not a secret and whoever appointed him should accept a fair share of the blame if it was an inappropriate appointment.

Sadly, football club directors are not renowned for accepting responsibility for bad decisions. When they make an error they do not go down with the slip. In Newcastle's case, the board actually compounded the club's plight considerably when two directors, Freddy Shepherd and Douglas Hall, featured in the now infamous Spanish brothel saga in which they rained insults on a wide range of people including players, fans and the women of Newcastle. Strangely enough, when they were freely shooting their mouths off they neglected to mention any misgivings about Dalglish's management. It must have occurred to them later.

It was a disgraceful episode but, far from tip-toeing off the stage in shame, they now occupy the main seats of power at the club and are even now preening themselves at the astuteness of the Gullit appointment. More particularly, they would be pleased that the club's share price rose as a result of it. Perhaps it takes a City brain to appreciate men who hastened the departure of Kevin Keegan, appointed the wrong man in his place - which is likely to cost them pounds 2.5m in compensation - and have now placed their future in the hands of a man who was sacked from Chelsea, who alleged he was a playboy who didn't put enough hours into his job.

The Chelsea chairman, Ken Bates, has been poking fun at Gullit's move, but if it comes off Bates will be left with enough egg on his face to produce the first bearded omelette. Neither would Spurs' beleaguered owner, Alan Sugar, be delighted. Gullit's agent rang five times to offer his client's services to Spurs but Sugar is rumoured to have said that he wasn't interested in someone who works only three days a week.

Newcastle will be delighted if he's upped his work-rate that much but it is impossible to quantify a manager's contribution in hours and days. All that matters is his effect on the team and the fashion in which they play. In common with all the teams expected to dominate the Premiership this season, Newcastle have had a faltering start. Sometimes, just the presence of a new figure at the helm is enough to inspire players for a short time, but the difficulty of Gullit's task can't be overstated.

At the very least, it adds another fascination to the new season which so far has been more successful at creating interest than it has at satisfying it. But the clubs must realise that the manner in which they operate has never been more important than it is now. If they want more control over their own destinies and less interference from administrators, they must show a regard for the propriety of their sport and a sense of self-discipline that is beyond reproach. The face of sporting capitalism we've seen this past week has been much less than acceptable.

As someone who has always pronounced Ajax, the Amsterdam football team, in the same way as I pronounce Ajax, the cleansing powder, and not Ayax as has long been fashionable in the smarter drawing-rooms, I was intrigued to learn that the sporting smart-arses who like to define the way we articulate foreign names have got their consonants in a twist over the pronunciation of Gullit.

It transpires that the Dutch say the name of Newcastle's new manager as we would naturally do; with a hard G as in sea-gull and not, as we've been led to believe, with a soft G as in Hull. So he's Gullit, not Hullit, or even Jullit.

I am all for according our fellow Europeans the politeness of proper pronunciation when appropriate but it can be taken too far. When Manchester United played the Polish team LKS Lodz our television commentators referred to them by a name that sounded like Wodge. Polish viewers would have understood but many of us might have thought that United were playing a different team to that written in the top left-hand corner of the screen. What would have been wrong with pronouncing the name phonetically? After all, a Lodz by any other name would still have lodz.

I have similar trouble with the name of the Italian first division. When people used to ask me if I watched "Seriah" I thought they were talking about a new team. I used to promise to watch out for them next time I watched Series A. I'm sure we don't mind if our teams are called Aston Willa or Volverhampton Vonderers on the continent so why should we get so precious about this?

Comments