Newcastle United should know by tonight if Alan Shearer is to become their permanent manager. Shearer will meet the club's owner, Mike Ashley, today on Tyneside for discussions about the future of both men and the club, with power and money high on the agenda. Shearer will want the personal authority and economic muscle to overhaul the relegated team and club, but Ashley is likely to point to an estimated £50m decrease in income in year one in the Championship, even with a parachute payment.
That makes this meeting difficult to predict. There is a chance that Shearer will decline what Ashley offers – possibly a four-year contract – which would plunge Newcastle into fresh turmoil.
There is no deadline but Shearer knows the importance of time. "The problem this club has got is," he said, "whether it's in this league or not, the other Championship teams have already started preparing. Newcastle United are already lagging behind. The sooner a decision is made the better. It needs to be filled with people who love this club. Newcastle will be a huge scalp for all Championship teams."
Shearer plans to gut the playing staff. The interim manager arrived at the club's training ground early yesterday morning and addressed the squad for 30 minutes. "If I'm here next season," Shearer is said to have informed them, "there are going to be big changes."
The players were then given their summer training schedule and told to report back on 1 July. By pre-season, Shearer, should he stay, will hope some high-earners and underachievers will have moved on. But that can only happen if there are takers for players who have failed to justify enormous salaries.
In the case of Joey Barton, for example, Shearer's desire to sell the troublesome midfielder may be compromised by an absence of buyers. An added financial complication is that if a club agrees to take Barton – and Blackburn and Bolton have been mentioned – Newcastle could be liable for the remainder of his contract with them.
This scenario may apply to Alan Smith, Jonas Gutierrez and several others whose willingness to leave may be hampered by the wages at St James' Park. It is all part of a dire economic picture at Newcastle. Whereas other clubs now routinely insert relegation clauses in players' contracts stipulating pay cuts of up to 60 per cent, it is understood Newcastle were not even doing this in January.
The number of saleable assets is small. Sébastien Bassong is one, but if Newcastle get more than £6m for the 22-year-old centre-half, who last week said he did not want to play in the Championship, they will be negotiating well. Smith is reportedly attracting Everton and Birmingham, and Obafemi Martins has a sufficiently strong reputation to be sold for £6m- £8m.
Steven Taylor is another for whom Newcastle will anticipate offers. Taylor said the mood in the dressing at Villa Park "was like a funeral. This has devastated everybody." Of his manager of eight games, Taylor said: "I haven't got a clue if he will stay. You will have to speak to the board. But he has been unbelievable with all the players. And the only person who can take us back up is Alan Shearer."
Taylor concurred with Shearer's comments on the need for turnover of personnel. "There have to be big changes after this," Taylor said, "people need to realise it is an honour to play for Newcastle United Football Club."
Disillusioned fans would say that players have treated Newcastle with disdain for too long. There was a visible lack of embarrassment on the faces of a number of Newcastle players on Sunday. Damien Duff was one who pledged his allegiance to the cause yesterday and the Irish winger has at least stirred himself as a left-back. Whether Duff's agent would allow that loyalty to embrace a pay cut is another matter.
The Newcastle hierarchy must display a degree of strategic thinking that has so far evaded them. Even yesterday in a non-apology issued via the club website, the managing director Derek Llambias mentioned Ashley's "hurt" before supporters.
A new broom: Newcastle's summer clear-out
*Saleable assets: Sébastien Bassong, Steven Taylor, Habib Beye, Obafemi Martins, Alan Smith
*Definitely going: Michael Owen, Mark Viduka, David Edgar, Claudio Cacapa
*Need to move on: Fabricio Coloccini, Jose Sanchez Enrique, Joey Barton, Jonas Gutierrez, Xisco, Shola Ameobi
*Staying: Steve Harper, Bassong, Taylor, Beye, Nicky Butt, Damien Duff