The Nick Townsend column: Newcastle need stability before they put on style

Allardyce's successor must be promised reasonable time to repair the ravages caused by short-termism at St James' Park
Click to follow
The Independent Football

At least he went to his fate braving the elements, almost daring the gods of circumstance to destroy him. No umbrella and coffee cup in hand for Sam Allardyce as the rains swept down at the Britannia Stadium on Sunday while what proved to be the final act of his tenure was played out. No McFolly with the brolly as, up in the stands, the vitriol eventually permeated the skin of that ubiquitous recluse, if you'll excuse the oxymoron, Newcastle's owner, Mike Ashley.

Whether the billionaire retailer was actually influenced by members of the Toon Army, with whom he is apparently determined to ingratiate himself, we will probably never know. He studiously does not comment, except through third parties such as Paul Kemsley, a former vice-chairman of Spurs, who on Thursday morning, having explained that "Mike is in Hong Kong with Sir Philip Green, doing a deal", denied that the culling of Allardyce was a ruthless act.

It was the decision of a "very considered guy", according to Kemsley, who proceeded to emphasise the fact that his mate's hands, if not entirely clean of blood, were guilty only of justifiable homicide.

"People have got to realise that Sam Allardyce was not Mike's choice," he said. "Mike bought the club with him already employed. Mike took the view that he is in the job, let's see if he can deliver what I want, which is good-quality, attacking football and to win games. I'll give him time to see if he can deliver that."

The Friends of Sam, and a few of us who never believed he stood an earthly from the beginning, given his perceived penchant for the percentage football that had served him so well during eight years at Bolton, may take issue with that. Give him time? Twenty- four games and 239 days? That would generally be considered no more than a reasonable period for an incoming manager to take stock.

In one sense, this eighth departure of a Premier League manager already this season is a microcosm of everything wrong with football at the elite level. We have certainly been here before. Many times. Yet, as usual with Newcastle, things are even more perverse than average. The fact that Ashley acquired the club soon after his predecessor, Freddy Shepherd, had appointedAllardyce at a gargantuan salary says everything about the accident waiting to happen that this football club have become.

It is like driving past a pile-up on the opposite carriageway. You shake your head in sympathy, but you are acutely aware this has been a black spot for years.

Probably only at Tottenham does expectation also quite so readily exceed reality. Spurs' managerial head-count is uncannily similar. Both clubs employed Ossie Ardiles in the early Nineties. Spurs have appointed eight managers since the Argentinian's departure from White Hart Lane; Newcastle are now seeking their eighth since Ardiles left St James' Park. Only the stewardships of Kevin Keegan and Sir Bobby Robson have bucked the trend at the latter club. That inspirational duo apart, Newcastle are a testimonyto the effects of instability as they are embroiled once more in tortuous melodrama.

Those of us who witnessed Newcastle's last victory, at Fulham before Christmas, could sense Allardyce's time was drawing perilously close. The match-winner was Joey Barton, with an added-time penalty; just about the dysfunctional midfielder's last positive contribution to Newcastle's indifferent season. It was the most excruciatingly awful game many of us had observed. While it takes two to tango, and Fulham were just as culpable, Ashley, present that evening, would have had all his misgivings about Allardyce confirmed.

So, the search is on again, accompanied by the jibes from Manchester and elsewhere mocking the demands from Newcastle followers that a new man should be appointed of the stature demanded by this "massive" club, who possess nothing but a loyal fan-base to support that claim. It is a brave, or foolish, man who ventures into this Castle Dracula and attempts to stake the heart of a monster so prepared to draw the blood of all those who pass throughits ramparts.

Ashley can claim perhaps that he is, too, an innocent virgin in a world which bears only scant comparison to that in which he made his fortune. His first act of this new era should be to join the adults and start behaving with some decorum. Because by now we've got it. We understand his point. He is at one with the real fans, in his replica shirt. And, of course, a man who has invested £250 million (according to Kemsley) in a club has every right to behave as he darn well pleases. However, he must learn that ownership also confers duties, including the responsibility of improvingthe club.

Ashley will perhaps also learn to appreciate that constructing a Premier League empire requires not just more of his millions but a comprehension that it is an evolutionary process. He could do well to scrutinise Everton, and David Moyes' progress there. The going has, at times, been daunting for the Scot; in his first full season, 2003-04, the Toffees finished 17th. Yet his chairman, Bill Kenwright, has constantly maintained his faith in his manager over nearly six years.

Everton took a chance with the former Preston manager. The Toon Army expect nothing less than a would-be Wor Kev. And hence the perennial dilemma. How to identify a man of experience and stature, who can exemplify the virtues demandedby the supporters? Particularly if, ideally, he needs to be A Local Man. "He's not a northern lad," was how one man in the street dismissed the prospect of Harry Redknapp's arrival in five words, although by Friday the mood appeared to have turned and they were bracing themselves for the coming of a cheerful Cockney.

In the event, he was not to be inveigled away from that relative comfort zone at Pompey. And why would he? Why would Redknapp, or Mark Hughes, who would perhaps have been a serious contender were it not for the belief that his next move is likely to be to Old Trafford, consider what even one Newcastle fan concedes must be "the worst job in football"?

There need be no inordinate rush to replace Allardyce. Newcastle are promised nothing but a possible FA Cup run this season. The club's owner must look beyond tomorrow, even beyond next season. His selection must have some reasonable expectation of the clock being allowed to run. Only, this time, it has to be the right man.

Back in the summer, that man was manifestly not Allardyce. Not at Newcastle. He had arrived handcuffed by the fans' preconceptions and duly lived down to those expectations, both with the acquisition of Barton, David Rozehnal, Claudio Cacapa and Jose Enrique, and his tactics. He had worked wonders at Bolton, true enough. But doubts per-sisted over his ability to translate his vision of the game to Newcastle – just as there would have been had he acquired the England job. To that extent, Redknapp, had he accepted Ashley's entreaties, would have had an immediate advantage over Allardyce. The football he espouses is easy on the eye, which would have immediately endeared him to the St James' Park faithful. He has also demonstrated himself capable of sourcing quality players worldwide. He is a wheeler-dealer in the market, though that quality may not have counted for quite so much, in the knowledge that Ashley's millions were bank-rolling the club. The prospect of building a team without restrictions on his expenditure may have just appealed to him.

Yet it appeared inconceivable that he would want to exchange his idyllic lifestyle on the South Coast for the North-east. Talk of him still being based there, and doing a long-haul commute, was bizarre, to say the least. It was surely an act of desperation from a club who like to think and talk big, but for too many years have singularly failed to act it.