Michael Walker: Shearer has more than one bad apple to deal with
Wednesday 06 May 2009
"You are not going to take the piss out of this football club and you are not going to take the piss out of this city." With these words Alan Shearer addressed a small gathering of malingering Newcastle United players one morning last week at the club's Benton training ground.
When he accepted the job at St James' Park 36 days ago, Shearer did not merely inherit a team that had won one of its previous 12 games, he took on a culture of a club that was undisciplined, unstructured and unfocused. The malaise extends beyond Joey Barton. There was a lot of drama around Barton as always yesterday, but that Shearer has been confronted with a regime where players decided when they would report for training, and where they would walk off the training ground when they thought they had done enough, is the real story at Newcastle.
Shearer is challenging that. It is a draining business when concentration should be elsewhere. But so frayed had the day-to-day culture become that Shearer is having to expend energy and time ensuring that the basics of time-keeping, fitness and mutual respect are in place.
So Shearer emerges as a disciplinarian, but is it zealous to request players arrive for work on time? Is that request not a reflection of lapsed standards of the sort that would not be tolerated at amateur level, never mind at Arsenal or Manchester United?
Shearer has taken on the challenge of turning round a club in eight games. In truth it may take three seasons. There has been no upward spike in Newcastle's results in five games so far. And Shearer will know that he has not got every selection, substitution and tactical switch right – there has been one goal scored in five matches.
But privately and publicly the vast majority of the squad state the benefit of Shearer's arrival and the injection of professionalism he has implemented. Defender Habib Beye was the latest to say so yesterday, and to plead with Shearer to stay beyond this month.
In dropping Michael Owen at Liverpool on Sunday, a decision that must have been troubling due to their friendship, Shearer has also demonstrated managerial strength. But it has not just been about orders. He has tried inclusivity, and to a degree that has worked, morale has improved. In the case of Barton, moreover, there was appeasement before aggression.
Barton should have tried things in that order too perhaps. But Newcastle need Alan Shearer more than ever.
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