Football: Madness of the dream factory

Andrew Longmore says there is little in Gullit's appointment to suggest long-term thinking
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The Independent Online
RUUD GULLIT and Newcastle? In the hazy, crazy, world of the Premiership, bizarre alliances are the rule rather than the exception. The Toon Army has always been a private guard, brought up on traditions far removed from the more basic instincts of the late twentieth century. Time has moved on since Wor Jackie Milburn but, gloriously, defiantly, Newcastle seemed rooted to the days of black and white.

On Tyneside, they have tended to mix with their own, through thin and thin, as Kevin Keegan, the last manager but one, once said. And because of that quaint, outdated, notion, the club was held in universal affection by the rest of the country, who knew a goldmine when they saw one and appreciated the ability of the Newcastle directors to keep digging up the fool's substitute.

Keegan came from Doncaster, but was the son of a Geordie miner, and therefore had his passport stamped. He understood the importance of style to the club and reasoned, with more cuteness than he was given credit for at the time, that playing with panache was only marginally less significant than winning something. That he came within a decent centre-half of managing both was a considerable achievement, one which would command a minute's silence at the Gallowgate End two years on.

Dalglish paid the price of listening to his board, following his instincts rather than the constituency who elected him. The boos which accompanied Newcastle's abject attempts to overcome 10-man Charlton Athletic on the opening day of the season betrayed his mistake. As managers well know, these are dangerous times. Fans have hope in their hearts and to dash them before the sun has dropped over the horizon spells disaster.

It seems entirely appropriate that Dalglish was sacked - whatever Newcastle plc might say to the contrary - after two draws, 0-0 v Charlton, 1-1 v Chelsea. A couple of rousing, cavalier, defeats and Dalglish might still be in a job. The prospect of another season of packed midfields and multi- million-pound mediocrity was too much, for the board and, quite probably, the players. Alan Shearer's demeanour during the FA Cup final left no one in any doubt what he thought about his lines of supply. But the writing was on the wall a few games before that.

If Dalglish's first truncated season ended with a flurry of clean sheets as the Keegan principles were dropped in the Tyne, his second ended with a cameo of incompetence at White Hart Lane, where they know a bit about fiasco. Shearer, roaming wider than a centre-forward should, picked up the ball midway inside Tottenham's half, moved right, turned and clipped a long, hopeful, cross to the far post. And who should be leaping to convert? All five feet something of David Batty. You knew then that not even a summer haemorrhage of the playing staff could stem the flow of discontent. The marriage, always a dangerous liaison, was over right there.

A touch of desperation mixed with the delight at Gullit's arrival last week. Football is no longer a game, as we know, but whether it is show business or just business is open to question. Gullit's arrival owes something to both. He is a figure to transform share prices and image at a stroke. Quite how long the sex appeal will last is another matter. There is little in the appointment which encourages the notion of long-term thinking. Myopia is as much an affliction of the City as United. Nor is there much to dispel the idea that the motivation was a rising sense of panic in the boardroom. Commitment would not be the first quality highlighted by Gullit's former employers at Chelsea. But, for once, in a turbulent couple of years, the suits and the fans were speaking the same language. No one has yet tested Wor Ruudie's grasp of Geordie.

Today, Gullit will cast an eye over his new charges against Liverpool. From a professional point of view, the timing could not be worse. The post-World Cup packs have been shuffled; not many decent players remain on the market, even if Newcastle can drum up the money, and the season is ticking away. Gullit might have to make do with what he has, which is not an appetising prospect. Dalglish's eye for goal was sharper than his eye for a bargain. Restoring Shearer to full power will be the first priority.

So another week in the Premiership dream factory comes to a close. The shame of it is that a real initiative was ground in the cogs. On Thursday, with attention focused on the monochrome swap shop at St James', a company called Futures in Sport launched a series of Open University television programmes, to be broadcast on Sky from October, which are designed to educate potential managers, in football and all sports. Finance, man management, communications, the law. All aspects are covered. Perhaps the first prospectus should be addressed to the Boardroom, Newcastle United plc, St James' Park, Disneyland.

Six with a point to prove to the new manager

STEPHANE GUIVARC'H

Injured in pre-season action, the Frenchman is due to make his debut today. Having drawn a conspicuous blank in the World Cup finals, he will be anxious to show his new boss that he can bring goals to Newcastle.

WARREN BARTON

It was Kevin Keegan who made him England's highest-priced defender (pounds 4m in June 1995) but Kenny Dalglish valued him no less - to the increasing annoyance of the Toon Army, who booed him on to the pitch as a second- half substitute against Charlton in the scoreless opening game of the season.

GARY SPEED

Speed has been slow to make an impression since his pounds 5.5m arrival from Everton - other than as a plodding midfield passenger.

KEITH GILLESPIE

Out of action since suffering ankle damage at Spurs in April and seemingly on his way out to Middlesbrough three weeks ago, the winger (above) would appear to be on a prayer at St James'.

DAVID BATTY

Recovering from an Achilles tendon operation and serving a five-match suspension, the Yorkshire terrier (above left) will be straining at the leash to show that, for all his bite, he can be a Wise kind of midfielder too.

PAUL DALGLISH

Called into the Scotland Under-21 squad on Thursday, and pressing for a Premiership chance after making an impression in pre-season and scoring twice for the reserves at Bradford on Tuesday, the striking son of the father has been left at St James' with the family name to uphold.

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