Graeme Souness often spoke of the rewards awaiting the manager who finally awakes Newcastle United from their stupor. That man will not be him.
The threat of unemployment has long been hanging over the 52-year-old, yet when it arrived, it came out of the blue. When the dust settled, a terse statement on the club website left so much unsaid, but still laid out the bald facts: "Newcastle United today announced that the employment of Graeme Souness has been terminated with immediate effect."
At 11.15am yesterday morning as he sat in his office plotting a way to rectify Wednesday's mind-numbing defeat at Manchester City with victory over Portsmouth tomorrow, the Scot took a telephone call from Freddy Shepherd. The chairman was the bearer of unwanted news. A short conversation and a parting of the ways ensued. Less than 90 minutes later, his desk at the club's academy training base in Little Benton had been cleared and his goodbyes had been said.
As he returned to his home in Tyneside's leafy Jesmond district, a stony-faced Shepherd, who is rather more keen on appointing Sven Goran Eriksson as a successor than he indicated at the weekend, arrived at the academy to inform the squad of events.
During the address, Shepherd confirmed that Glenn Roeder, the academy director, will be in charge on Saturday. He will be assisted by Alan Shearer, in the most high-profile double act to emanate from the North-east since Ant and Dec.
"I'm obviously saddened at the way things have worked out at St James' Park," Souness said in a statement. "I've enjoyed living and working in Newcastle. My family has been made particularly welcome by the Geordies. I wish the club, players and supporters good fortune and success going forward."
An outline agreement over a pay-off for Souness and his coaching staff of Alan Murray, Dean Saunders and Roy Tunks is believed to be in place, although Terry McDermott is thought to be staying. At around £5m, the pay-off is one-tenth of the amount he was allowed to invest during a 17-month reign that produced 16 Premiership wins from 56 games. Since mid-December, Newcastle's only victories have arrived in the FA Cup, against Mansfield and Cheltenham.
Having survived open-heart surgery, Souness is able to put the sizeable dent to his professional pride into the kind of perspective often distorted by the hysteria which has surrounded his future over the past few months.
The appointment of Shearer and Roeder effectively enforces a deadline of 27 April to name a successor, as Frank Clark, the former Newcastle defender and League Managers Association vice-chairman outlined: "Neither Glenn nor Alan have their Pro Licence qualification. It means Newcastle can carry on with a temporary arrangement for 12 weeks to get them through to a full-time appointment. After that they are breaking Premier League regulations."
The regulations were not fully in place when Roeder took charge at West Ham United in 2001. Like Souness, the former Newcastle defender has undergone life-saving surgery, in his case for a brain tumour in 2003. The 50-year-old will hold his first press conference since his elevation this morning.
Shearer would not be drawn on his new role, but conceded that swift action was needed to stem a six-game winless Premiership run that threatens to herald a relegation scrap: "We all need to buck up our ideas. We need points or we'll be in real relegation trouble. We need to rectify this before it becomes an emergency. Otherwise we'll be sliding down the table. We have a big battle on our hands. We're not in the comfort zone at the moment and we have some big games coming up."
Bookmakers are rarely wrong, but there are obstacles to both early frontrunners becoming the club's sixth manager of the Premiership era.
Sam Allardyce, the 6-1 favourite, far from endeared himself to Shepherd when, in 2004, he turned down the opportunity to succeed Sir Bobby Robson, paving the way for Souness, initially not in the first three choices, to take charge.
Shepherd is an admirer Martin O'Neill, who has also been installed at a short price, although the Newcastle chairman is worried that the Irishman's free-spirited nature might be difficult to work closely with.
Paul Jewell, the Wigan manager and another to receive backing, immediately ruled himself out: "It was England last week, Newcastle this week. I'm happy enough with my job here," he said.
Effectively, Newcastle are competing with the Football Association to attract a new manager. Mick Quinn, a former darling of St James' Park, is in little doubt as to the more important role: "Managing Newcastle is a bigger job than managing England," he insisted.
Eriksson might beg to differ, and well placed sources suggest he is likely to be offered an opportunity to compare and contrast the roles, although Newcastle are in no hurry to make an immediate appointment.
Rather than hindering his chances of a return to domestic management in the North-east, the unavoidable celebrity that helped seal the Swede's England downfall is something Shepherd is happy to accommodate in order to lure a coach he respects highly.
Souness may be gone, but the recriminations have only just begun. Nol Solano, the South American midfielder, admitted that the players must shoulder much of the blame: "We know we've let the manager down and we didn't want to put him in this position.
"I feel sad for him. He brought me back to the club I love and I will always owe him that. He doesn't deserve this." Even by recent standards, the surrender at the City of Manchester Stadium was abject. Solano added: "I think he knew something would happen. We turned up to training and heard a rumour he'd come to say goodbye. He knew his time was up and I think he felt some of the recent criticism had gone too far."
As Souness was increasingly apt to say, for a manager of Newcastle United, that is the price on the ticket.
Talk of the Toon: Four contenders to take over at St James'
Sven Goran Eriksson ENGLAND COACH
Outsider but Newcastle would like someone with such a high profile and good track record.
Sam Allardyce BOLTON MANAGER
The early favourite has often been linked to the job but may have an eye on England.
Martin O'Neill FORMER CELTIC MANAGER
A Newcastle favourite but is caring for his sick wife and has set no date for a return.
The Angel of the North A STATUE
After a string of unsuccessful managers perhaps only spiritual help can save Newcastle.Reuse content