Resilient Roeder emerges from long shadows

Caretaker revels in chance to nurture Parker and Co after damage done to himself and club
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The Independent Football

Should he get a result at Old Trafford today, it is very likely that Glenn Roeder will be borne on a golden litter through the streets of Newcastle and anointed the club's permanent manager by popular acclaim. Over his protesting body, in the unlikely event of a protest being mounted.

As he has gone about constructing a six-match unbeaten run since replacing Graeme Souness on a caretaker basis on 2 February, Roeder's popularity and reputation have mushroomed in a success-starved Toon, roughly on a par with the melting of his own earlier, firmly stated resolve to return to his post as Newcastle's academy director when a new manager comes in.

Roeder knows he can do the big job, and increasingly it shows through the deadpan denials. Those denials are less certainly stated as the players begin to assemble quietly behind him, gratified at the unity and success he is providing. Nolberto Solano, with three goals in the last two games, is one who has benefited from the Roeder reshuffle of formation and tactics, and he is clear about his preference.

"We hope [Roeder] will take the chance if it comes," Solano said. "He is a great man, he is good to work with, he deserves it. Since he took over, everybody starts to play very well, which is why the team looks more confident, more positive."

Roeder has seemed reluctant to suffer a repeat of the shabby treatment he received at West Ham where, in the wake of relegation from the Premiership and a summer operation for a brain tumour, he was sacked a few weeks into the new season. But clearly managers, or managers like Roeder, are more resilient than we may think.

To start with, he bears no grudge. "You will not find one critical comment from me in the archives about West Ham. I took it on the chin, got on with my life. It always peeves me when managers leave a club and start ripping into them. That is poor. I got off the floor. I didn't stay on the canvas, though I could have done because I had every reason to stay down when I got knocked there with the problems over my health. But I was soon up and swinging again.

"I have never had any doubt about my ability to talk to senior players and work with them. I have enjoyed the chance to do that again. But I didn't enjoy the fact that Graeme had to lose his job for me to do it, though I also know that is a fact of life."

Roeder is swift to acknowledge that when he returned last summer to a club where he had played with distinction to run the academy, the thought of stepping up in the coaching hier-archy did not even cross his mind. "If someone had said, 'By next February you will be managing Newcastle in a caretaker capacity when Alan Shearer breaks the goalscoring record,' I would have told him to go away."

Realising his good fortune - "You have to be in the right place at the right time" - Roeder paid tribute to the quality of player he has inherited, naming Shay Given, Solano, Emre and Scott Parker in particular. "I knew they were good, but not how good. I worked with a couple of squads at West Ham where there were one or two unsavoury characters. Here they are all good guys. They have spoiled me in terms of reminding me just how good top players are."

While stressing he was not trying to tell Sven Goran Eriksson how to do his job, Roeder said he was surprised Parker did not appear to be figuring in England's World Cup plans, and presented a statistic about his midfielder's work-rate clearly supplied by an anorak. "In every one of our last four games Parker has made more tackles, proper tackles, than all of the Arsenal players put together. Apart from his ability, he is a man on a mission here, to prove that Chelsea didn't give him a fair crack of the whip."

As for the experiment with Tottenham's defender Ledley King in England's midfield holding role, Roeder put it down to Eriksson's loyalty to the existing squad. "One of the key things about what has happened here at Newcastle in the last five weeks is that we have put round pegs in round holes. Scott specialises as a midfield holding player, though I don't like him sitting deep the whole game because I remember at Charlton he was their driving force. But a player like Scott or Michael Carrick, who I worked with at West Ham, is needed because of Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard's keenness to burst forward.

"I like Scott Parker a lot and if a new manager comes in, I would like to think he will take one look at him and choose him as the natural successor to Alan Shearer as captain. He is the obvious choice. He is in the right area of the pitch to communicate and he leads by example as well."

If that new manager should not be Roeder but an Allardyce or an O'Neill, would it prove an anticlimax after the excitements of the past few, heady weeks? He gave that one deep thought. "It mustn't be," he said. "I must very quickly slip back into a role."

But if Newcastle's unbeaten run carries on past Old Trafford, where they have not won for 34 years, and then beyond Liverpool next week and Chelsea in the FA Cup quarter-finals, his role would surely be the leading one.