Football: Gullit fishing in foreign waters

Simon Turnbull finds Newcastle's plans are currently deadlocked
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The Independent Online
THE LAST time Ruud Gullit embarked on a managerial mission at Old Trafford he was blessed with such an embarrassment of riches he had the striking assets of Gianluca Vialli and Tore Andre Flo alongside him on the bench. It will be rather different this afternoon. Ten weeks into his new management job, Gullit has yet to acquire the new faces Newcastle United clearly need to make up the ground they have lost since the false dawn of their 5-0 mauling of Manchester United on Tyneside 25 months ago.

The dreadlocked Dutchman has been deadlocked on the transfer front since his arrival at St James' Park. He still has the squad he inherited from Kenny Dalglish - big on numbers but short on quality, though now, of course, minus Steve Watson and Stephane Guivarc'h. Gullit saw evidence of the Magpies' plummeting stock on day one, a 4-1 home defeat against Liverpool, and again five weeks ago, in a 3-0 loss at Highbury. He pledged after the slump to "go through the team with a battering ram" but, in the absence of rebuilding material, the demolition of Kenny's crew has yet to materialise.

"Of course we're not where we want to be," Gullit said after training on Friday, "but I think we've done well in the last 10 weeks. I'm ambitious to do even better. And to do even better we need to sign some important players so the quality of the side will improve. But I'm not panicking. I'm not going to buy somebody just for the sake of it. Whoever I buy will have to improve the team.

"Yes, I've got the money. But I want the right players. If the worst comes to the worst and we don't get anyone then I will be happy to continue with the same squad. There is a lot of fishing going on at the moment but the bait is not right."

Gullit did bite at the chance of landing Dion Dublin but was never going to tempt the Stratfordian away from the Midlands once Aston Villa dangled their pounds 5.75m hook. He has spread his net overseas - making unsuccessful offers to Milan for Christian Ziege and to Deportivo La Coruna for Jerome Bonnissel, another left wing-back - and his wanted list is also believed to include Ulf Kirsten of Bayer Leverkusen, Ivan Zamorano of Internazionale and Michael Mols of Utrecht, all strikers, and Milan's defender Guiseppe Cardone.

"For me, there is no frustration," Gullit insisted. "You have to build slowly - one step at a time. It was the same situation at Chelsea." Not quite. Twelve weeks into his first season as Chelsea manager, Gullit had a team good enough to win at Old Trafford. He would have savoured another 2-1 success there last season too, had Ole Gunnar Solskjaer not salvaged a fortuitous late point from a bruising contest in which Gullit's side played with the sparkle of potential champions. Gullit has yet to lose as a manager at Old Trafford and he has clearly won the respect of the man against whom he will be pitting his professional wits again this afternoon.

When Ken Bates decided to make Gullit a 35-year-old Chelsea pensioner, Alex Ferguson invited him to oversee informally Manchester United's training at The Cliff towards the end of last season. "I couldn't go because I was on a coaching course in Holland," Gullit said, "but it was a nice gesture, very nice. I really admire Alex Ferguson, the way he does things and what he has achieved."

What Ferguson's team have achieved in their last two matches, overcoming Everton and Brondby with a combined scoreline of 9-1, would not appear to augur well for Gullit's side this afternoon. Newcastle, in their last two Premiership fixtures, have lost 2-0 at Tottenham and 3-0 at home to West Ham, though Gullit - like the seething Toon Army - has dismissed the most recent reverse as an aberration directly attributable to Graham Poll. "There was no way we would have lost that game other than because of the referee's decisions," he said. "We played well. We will go to Old Trafford with confidence from that."

And Newcastle will need all the confidence they can muster in the so- called Theatre of Dreams. They did beat Sheffield United in the FA Cup semi- final played at Old Trafford in April but the home of the Red Devils has long been a cauldron of Geordie nightmares. Just once in 48 years have Newcastle beaten Manchester United away from home. That was in February 1972, the week after Newcastle's FA Cup humiliation at Hereford. John Tudor and Stuart Barrowclough scored the goals in a 2-0 triumph against a line-up which featured the names Best, Law, Charlton and Kidd.

"It's nothing to do with me," Gullit said, with an impish grin, when his attention was drawn to the 26 years of Toon Army hurt. "You can't live in history. You've got to build for the future." For Newcastle and their new manager, though, the team-building has yet to begin.