Glenn the monarch: 'I can kick ass with the best of them'

Roeder takes sole charge of the Newcastle reins and reveals a hard edge to calm image
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The Independent Football

Not for the first time in recent memory, the media suite at St James' Park was filled with fighting talk. Thirteen months ago Graeme Souness hauled Lee Bowyer and Kieron Dyer in there to offer sheepish apologies for the outbreak of on-field fisticuffs that Freddy Shepherd described as his "blackest" moment as chairman of Newcastle United. Last Tuesday morning it was Shepherd who was pulling no punches in front of the microphones.

"If he was standing in front of me I'd punch him on the nose," the Newcastle chairman said, failing to restrain his anger towards John Barnwell, chief executive of the League Managers' Association, on the occasion of Glenn Roeder's confirmation as Souness' managerial successor.

"I've never heard of a union leader trying to stop a member getting a job before. Do you think Arthur Scargill would stop a miner trying to get a job? It's a disgrace. I've never been so angry with anyone in my life - and coming from a fellow-Geordie. That's what hurt the most."

Roeder looked hurt, too, by the LMA's criticism of approval given to Newcastle by their fellow Premier League clubs to appoint their caretaker as permanent manager without a Uefa ProLicence - the equivalent of the cycling proficiency or 25- yards swimming certificates in the latter-day school playground of football management, evidently. The new manager chose to express his feelings rather differently, though, throwing puns instead of threatened punches.

"Well, in the end," Roeder said, "excuse the pun, but you do feel a little bit like you're a football being kicked around the stadium. They kept trying to get themselves off the hook by saying, 'This is not personal'. But in the end I thought it was becoming personal. But that's as much as I want to say. I don't want to give it any more publicity than it's already had.

"There's much bigger fish for us to fry at Newcastle: the future, getting ourselves in the right shape. We're back on 28 June. We're not going to let all the hard work we've done since February slip away because we're not fit enough when we play in the Intertoto Cup on 15 July.

"As far as the LMA are concerned, I'd prefer to keep my own counsel. That's one thing that disappoints me generally. There was a time when people kept their opinions to themselves. Now they want to shout their opinions from the rooftops."

Roeder always was one of football's more cerebral figures. In the five and a half years he spent at the heart of the Newcastle defence in the 1980s any mention of his name in the local evening newspaper was invariably prefixed by the words "cultured" and "defender", conjuring a picture of him strolling serenely upfield at St James' with the ball at his feet while blithely reciting from Hamlet or dabbing a few finishing brushstrokes to a Mona Lisa.

"I have this reputation of being a decent, honest, easy-to-get-on-with sort of person," Roeder said on Tuesday, raising the subject of his public picture. "There's nothing wrong with those qualities. But I've also proved in these last few months that when I need to kick ass I can kick it with the best of them. The players will give you examples through the season that when they've needed it at half-time they've had it.

"Shola Ameobi would be another example. When he fractured his gums and it wasn't sure if he could play in the last three games I got him in and told him that we needed him... 'You have to get out there. Alan Shearer wouldn't even be thinking about not playing. When the dental people were saying, 'Mm, you shouldn't be playing', Alan would have said, 'Get that gum shield made. Get it fitted now, because I'm out there whether you like it or not'. And Shola showed that attitude. He did well for me. He did well for the team.

"I've got to get that strong mentality into the players, because I've got it. But I don't have to go around with gritted teeth every day to prove I'm strong and tough. I don't believe you have to. I don't believe you have to be a coach who jumps up and down like a lunatic either. I don't think coaches who do that can really see what's going on out on the pitch and make accurate assessments.

"You might look at me now and think, 'He's very calm'. But I'm bubbling up inside. This is a magnificent opportunity that the chairman's given me. I've loved everything about Newcastle since I came here as a player, and that affinity for the club will certainly drive me.

"My motivation is extremely high. I think the very fact that I'm here, after what happened three years ago, will tell you how motivated I am."

Three years after collapsing with a brain tumour, and subsequently seeing his career in Premiership management fall apart at West Ham, Roeder has regained both his health and his professional reputation. Having swept Newcastle to seventh place in the Premiership as their caretaker, though, he needs to keep a firm and steady hand on the brush as he looks beyond tidying the mess of the Souness era towards making a more lasting mark at St James' - most importantly of all with some engraving on silverware.

"I was born in 1955, the last time the FA Cup was brought to this club," Roeder reflected. "You don't have to tell me what would happen if myself and the team were to win something."