The Nick Townsend Column: Why self-deluded Newcastle should turn to the safe rather than the 'sexy'

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It recalled a moment at Swindon's County Ground a decade ago when Steve Coppell, then Manchester City's manager, and as ashen-faced in reality as Private Eye's supremo Ron Knee is habitually, looked similarly overcome by events. It was difficult to imagine that you would ever see him in management again. Of course, professional football being the perverse activity that it is, not only is he currently thriving, but is also among the possible contenders for the vacant Newcastle seat.

Coppell is far from alone in what could develop into that old playground ritual of picking sides. The FA choose first, and whoever doesn't get the England job gets considered by New-castle. The bookmakers collectively have listed 21 possibles, ranging from the "conceivable" to the "not absolutely impossible" to the "absurd, even given Shepherd's record". Sam Allar-dyce and Martin O'Neill are understandably favourites, and "Big Phil" Scolari is another name being whispered, but Sven Goran Eriksson, Kevin Keegan, Glenn Hoddle, or, wait for it, Terry Venables? Throw in Graham Taylor and Sir Bobby Robson, and you would have all the England managers going back to 1982.

Coppell, incidentally, has flourished at the Madejski Stadium in part because of an astute chairman, just as Stuart Pearce has under John Wardle's stewardship at Manchester City, and Paul Jewell, too, in conjunction with Dave Whelan at Wigan. One could continue. A football club is like a tandem, on which manager and chairman must pedal in rhythm and harmony.

At St James' Park, there remains the impression that, even with Lance Armstrong on board, United would still be constantly braking and swerving in the slipstream of others while Shepherd exerts influence.

All the Toon Army can hope for now is that, with Glenn Roeder - a decent man and a sound coach - in charge temporarily, together with Alan Shearer (whose presence as the assistant "gaffer" may or may not prove beneficial) there will be an opportunity for the board to take a more measured view than appears to have been the case during the Shepherd years.

Perhaps they should be reminded that Newcastle were at their best in recent times during Robson's reign and, before that, during Keegan's five-year tenure, which started in 1992 when the club were in the Second Division. It grew steadily again in stature, as did "Wor Kev" before he walked.

Newcastle do not require, necessarily, a "sexy" name. They need someone solid, experienced, a man who comes highly regarded, appointed with the accent on continuity, who deals imaginatively in the transfer market. And he needs time. Look around the Premiership. Ignore Sir Alex Ferguson and the other managers of the Big Four, who are all imported, proven foreign coaches. Consider instead the names of Martin Jol, Allardyce, Jewell, Alan Pardew, Stuart Pearce, Alan Curbishley and David Moyes, to name but some. They have all emerged from relatively unpretentious coaching origins.

Newcastle should seek that kind of individual while refraining from the chanting of the mantra "this is a massive club", as though that, even if it were true, begets success by some kind of divine right.

It is "massive" only in that St James' Park is a splendid stadium, providing a high capacity, both for crowds and self-delusion. Historically, of course, the club have a claim to greatness, as four-times old First Division champions and six-times FA Cup winners; although, significantly, despite flirting with the championship, they have won nothing of note domestically since 1955.

And, of course, they have fanatical support. Yet that alone does not make a club massive; it just creates an expectancy which can be as much destructive as it is a galvanising force.

Souness will not be the last victim of that, unless Newcastle review their whole philosophy. Someone should remind them that the mammoth was massive, too. And looked what happened to him.

Sensitive Sol needs time and space

A bad day at the office, and most people put it behind them; maybe, at worst, get their doctor to sign them off with "back pain" for a few days. Sol Campbell suffers the equivalent and walks into a plethora of headlines - some, like "The Incredible Sol-k", pretty callous, given what we now know - with every psychologist, professional and amateur, attempting to diagnose the Arsenal defender. Oh, and a monstering from Alan Hansen on Match of the Day, who questioned his right to be considered for the World Cup in Germany.

Professional sportsmen just don't quit. There's always a convenient hamstring twinge to hide behind. The curious thing about Campbell is that he reportedly did a Stephen Fry and exited the stage at half-time against West Ham. Arsène Wenger claims there is no physical problem, although the player's fitness and pace are clearly suspect. Is his "personal crisis" a loss of pride at recent performances - or is it more complex? He is due to return to the fray this week, and will be given time and space. But will he have that herculean presence of old?

Unusually, there is ambivalence within football. It prefers a clear dividing line between its heroes and its faithless want-aways - and Campbell has been lauded and damned as both in his time. Sensitive Sols are a different category altogether.

Man-manager Pearce learning fast

Rightly, there have been doubts expressed - not least by himself - as to whether Stuart Pearce has the experience to become the next England coach. In the past few days, the Manchester City manager has garnered several years' worth of man-management training.

With a diplomacy and a sensitivity at odds with his reputation as a fearsome defender, Pearce has managed largely to defuse the crisis surrounding Joey Barton's transfer request, and return striker Robbie Fowler to Anfield without ill-feeling. And that despite both players owing him, and City, a profound debt of gratitude.

We all know a footballer's definition of loyalty: kissing the club badge right up untilhints of advancement or salary increase are in the air. Then it's time for that same club, not to put too fine a point on it, to kiss his arse.

Yet, I would not condemn Barton outright. It's a cynical world, and City persevered with him not because he was a sterling character, but principally because of his value to them as a talented midfielder. For how long should that bind him to City? And at what price? Pragmatism, not principle, rules players and clubs.

And supporters, too. How else do you explain the invective Barton withstood at the start of the demolition of Newcastle - and the standing ovation he received after a typically combative display?