Football: Robson rolls in to Newcastle

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The Independent Online
BOBBY ROBSON, who 17 years ago was spat at by Newcastle United supporters angry that he had dropped Kevin Keegan from the England squad, will this morning be installed as the club's 20th post-war manager. He trusts his reception at St James' Park will be more welcoming.

A press conference has been scheduled for 10am, when Newcastle will announce a two-year contract for the 66-year-old former England manager, achieving an ambition Robson has harboured since childhood. He had talks with club officials in London on Wednesday night and then travelled north to complete the formalities yesterday afternoon.

The son of a Durham miner, born in Sacriston within 15 miles of his new place of employment, he has always coveted the St James' Park job and, in turn, the supporters who once reviled him now accept him as the best option after Ruud Gullit's resignation on Saturday. In a poll in Newcastle's Evening Chronicle, 87 per cent voted in his favour. Perhaps not surprisingly, only Keegan would be a more popular choice.

The appointment will mark a triumph of perseverance by Sir John Hall, the club's principal shareholder, who tried to secure Robson when Keegan quit the club in 1997. Then his commitment to Barcelona meant he had to decline the offer; without a job since he left PSV Eindhoven in the summer, this time he could accept. It will be his first position in English league football since he left Ipswich Town to manage the national side in 1982.

Robson merely confirmed that talks were taking place yesterday, but at the weekend he dismissed suggestions that at 66 he will be too old to manage a Premiership club. "I'm in good health," he said. "I'm better than I've ever been and I would like to continue to work. The job wouldn't worry me. I'm very experienced. I can handle it and, in view of all these ingredients, I wouldn't be afraid of the job."

He may not be afraid of it but no-one should underestimate the scale of the task ahead as Robson inherits a club in trouble in more ways than one. A single point from a possible 18 has left Newcastle joint bottom of the Premiership, with 18 goals conceded a testament to the problems on the pitch. Off it there is the residue of discontent that focused on the personalities of Gullit and the captain Alan Shearer who, some say, exercised too much influence within the club.

The caretaker manager Steve Clarke insists there is no dressing room unrest, but there was no great evidence of spirit running through the team when they were routed 5-1 by Manchester United at Old Trafford on Monday.

Shearer may or may not have a clause in his contract guaranteeing a coaching position in the future, but if he has it may discourage candidates such as Peter Beardsley, who might have wished to become Robson's No 2 in different circumstances. There is also Clarke's position to resolve.

Finally there is the goldfish bowl culture on Tyneside which Gullit described as the main reason for his resignation, although Robson says that would not be a problem. "Have you ever been to Barcelona?" he asked. "Try working in Barcelona where I had 50 journalists - not five or 15 - 50 journalists or media, television crews, photographers, written press, radio people, every day at the club. That was before training. I'm not talking about after matches and prior to matches, I'm talking about every day. I've been in pressure jobs. Barcelona, Porto was a pressure job, Sporting Lisbon was a pressure job, PSV was a pressure job and so was the England job. I've experienced that all my life so, yes, I can handle that."

That television interview was a job application without the paper, envelope and the stamp, but it served a purpose in persuading Tyneside that Robson was fit enough for a position that has worn down three of the greatest footballers of the last 30 years, Keegan, Kenny Dalglish and Gullit.

"At first I was worried about his age," the chairman of the Newcastle United Independent Supporters Club, Frank Gilmore, said, "but when I saw him in that interview, he came across as a very fit man. He has been there and done it... I think the guy can handle it.

"I think we'll see a better relationship between the Newcastle manager and the media. Keegan came across well but Kenny Dalglish's PR was atrocious and it was hard to work out what Gullit meant at times. With Robson, you will probably get a rapport. The fact that he is a Geordie will also help."

A gentle start would have been appreciated, but Robson will take over with many of his players away on international duty, returning two days before a trip to Chelsea on 11 September. Then, five days later, is a Uefa Cup game in Bulgaria against CSKA Sofia.

Within a fortnight a job he says he relishes might have taken on an altogether different light.

Richard Williams, page 26;

PFA loses sex discrimination case, page 6