Football: Gullit in charge at Newcastle

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The Independent Online
THE DREADLOCKED holiday is over for Ruud Gullit. Six months after being obliged to bite the managerial bullet at Stamford Bridge, Gullit returns to the cut-throat thrust of Premiership life when he steps through the main entrance at St James' Park this morning.

As the latest plot unfolded yesterday in the soap opera that is Newcastle United, the one-time Dutch master agreed to replace Kenny Dalglish in the management seat that became too hot for the Scotsman on Tyneside.

It was, it seems, a Ruud awakening for the departing Dalglish. Although Newcastle claimed he offered his resignation 10 days ago, he announced last night that he would be taking legal advice before making public his version of events.

Gullit met Newcastle directors in London yesterday morning and signed a two-year deal, believed to be worth pounds 2m, with the option of a one-year extension. He will be formally unveiled at a St James' Park press conference this morning before preparing his inherited squad for the visit of Liverpool on Sunday.

Gullit was keeping his thoughts temporarily to himself last night, but his agent, Phil Smith, said: "He wants the opportunity to manage a club like Newcastle, with their special fans and the special brand of football they like their team to play."

The absence of that special brand ultimately cost Dalglish his job, though, according to the announcement made to the Stock Exchange yesterday afternoon, he did not come first in the managerial sack race this season. Newcastle United plc claimed it had been "advised by Dalglish on 18 August that he had wished to resign as team manager as soon as possible, but not before a replacement was appointed."

Dalglish's response, however, suggested his interpretation of events may not be quite the same. "I have read the statement late this afternoon and I want to respond to it and give my side of the story," he said. "But I feel I need to take legal advice first and that will take time."

The statement issued by Newcastle also quoted the club's chairman, Freddie Shepherd, as saying: "In welcoming Ruud to Newcastle we believe we have the ideal person to succeed Kenny and continue the club's development. We have made clear our determination to take the club to the highest level and to play entertaining and attractive football in the process - an ambition shared by all our supporters."

Amid the confusion about the circumstances of Dalglish's departure, one certain factor was that he had paid the price for disillusioning those supporters.

In guiding Newcastle to the FA Cup final in May and into the Champions' League last season, he actually took the Tyneside club to greater heights than any manager since Joe Harvey's team won the Fairs Cup in 1969 - the year man was not so much over the moon as upon it for the first time.

Dalglish, though, was obliged to to topple from his perch for the acute case of parrot-sickness he induced among the followers of the Magpies. Having transformed Keegan's beloved cavaliers into his own unloved roundheads (and avoided relegation by just four points last season), it was clear he was living on borrowed time when the team he lavished pounds 15m on in the summer were booed off St James' Park on the first day of the Premiership campaign.

It seemed then that Dalglish might have a season in which to win over the Toon Army's disgruntled footsoldiers - autumn - but he has failed to survive even the summer. His offer to resign came last Tuesday, three days after the goal-less draw against a 10-man Charlton team at St James.'

The fact that it was accepted, just one game into the season, was probably influenced not just by Dalglish's low rating in the Tyneside popularity stakes but by his strained relationship with Newcastle's chief executive, Freddie Fletcher, which reached breaking point a fortnight ago over claims and counter claims that Keith Gillespie's career might be ended by injury.

It was Dalglish who was licking wounds yesterday, though his injured professional pride might be eased by the pounds 3m he stands to gain in compensation for the remainder of his three-and-a-half year contract. There were few tears on Tyneside, in contrast to January last year at the mournful wake of Keegan's departure from St James' Park.

Though Ian from Gateshead rang to offer his sympathy on Radio Newcastle's morning phone-in show - "Kenny's main problem is he doesn't have a Yorkshire accent, he doesn't have curly hair and he isn't called Kevin Keegan" - most callers were happy to see the back of the man who assumed Keegan's No 7 shirt at Liverpool with greater success than he enjoyed in his 19 months on Tyneside.

Calum, from Newcastle, spoke for the Toon Army majority when he said: "The FA Cup final was the final straw. We played with no passion, no inventiveness."

And at Newcastle's training base yesterday, there was no Dalglish - no Kenny Dalglish, at any rate. He was conspicuously absent from the Riverside sports complex in Chester-le-Street as the 54-strong squad he built were put through their daily paces by Terry McDermott.

The players departed without passing public comment, though the assembled media throng would have given more than a penny for the thoughts of the young striker who has been making a name for himself in the reserve team recently. His name even appeared in the Scotland Under-21 squad for the first time yesterday: Dalglish, Paul Dalglish.

It must have been a beguiling day at the office for the son of the erstwhile boss. While he was being called up for national service against the Under- 21s of Lithuania in Vilnius on 4 September, his father was packing his bags at St James' Park.

Elsewhere on Tyneside, preparations were being made for the changing of the managerial guard at St James'. The printing press at Dixon Sports was busy stamping a new name on the back of Newcastle shirts.

GULLIT, it read - in black and white.

The Dalglish disaster, page 22