Robson exit puts Shearer future under spotlight

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The Independent Football

The symmetry is extraordinary. Five years to the day since Ruud Gullit's final act as Newcastle United's manager was to drop Alan Shearer for a now infamous derby defeat in the pouring rain against Sunderland, Sir Bobby Robson also left the striker on the bench.

The symmetry is extraordinary. Five years to the day since Ruud Gullit's final act as Newcastle United's manager was to drop Alan Shearer for a now infamous derby defeat in the pouring rain against Sunderland, Sir Bobby Robson also left the striker on the bench. "I'm a brave manager," he said of the decision which was a precursor to the dismal defeat against Aston Villa on Saturday. "Now if that costs me, then it costs me. But at least I'm honest, I'm straight and I'm direct and I made a brave decision." Robson added.

That directness led Robson to seek out his chairman, Freddy Shepherd, first thing yesterday morning. Robson - in no uncertain terms - told Shepherd that he would not work with the threat of the sack hanging over his head. Indeed, Shepherd had let it be known over the weekend that his manager had, at best, a handful of games to turn the club's fortunes around.

Having been challenged, Shepherd made the threat a reality and Robson was out. With the transfer window closing today, and a central defender still not signed, neither expected such a dramatic turn of events. It is a débâcle. But, in truth, it was coming to a head and although much analysis will rightly focus on Robson's relationship with Shearer, it is his dealings with Shepherd which have led to his sudden, sad departure.

Nevertheless, Robson was acutely aware of the importance of Shearer. In his first press conference after taking over at St James' Park in September 1999 he said: "To succeed here it is essential that I get on with Alan Shearer." And he did. Shearer responded and appeared rejuvenated. Publicly both men spoke glowingly about each other but neither has, it should be said, ever been lacking in ego and their relationship is not what it was when, three years ago, Robson backed Shearer to be his successor.

The former England striker wants to play every match, expects to play every match. Robson has consistently pointed out that he is well into his 30s and has, privately, chided Shearer's style. He clearly attempted to offload the player to Liverpool last year - much to his shock - and although Martin O'Neill insists it was he, not Newcastle, who tried to send Shearer to Celtic in the summer, rumour persists that Robson was also keen to see the back of him.

Whatever the strength of that relationship, though, the writing was on the wall for Robson once Newcastle failed to secure a place last season in the group stages of the Champions' League with their pitiful capitulation at the hands of Partizan Belgrade. It was not until October that Newcastle won a Premiership match, and by January this year Shepherd felt moved to issue a threat.

"We are not going to put up with it," he said of the performance of the team - and the manager. "I am talking about everyone here," he added. And this from the chairman of a club which had not won a trophy in 35 seasons and which, under Robson, had finished third in the Premiership, reached FA Cup and Uefa Cup semi-finals and had previously performed well in the Champions' League.

Indeed the feeling is that Robson, now 71, should have walked away last summer. Then he would have been accorded the hero's farewell he deserves from his fellow Geordies. But he does not know when to quit. It is probably why he beat both colon cancer and a malignant melanoma on his face, nine years ago, when his surgeon said he would never work again.

Shepherd's campaign against him continued this summer when Robson learned through the media, and not through the boardroom, that he was not to be offered a new contract when his current deal was due to expire at the end of the season.

It then transpired that it was Shepherd, and not Robson, who was conducting Newcastle's transfer business. The manager had no say in the arrival of Patrick Kluivert - who ironically played instead of Shearer at Villa Park - the sale of Jonathan Woodgate or the bid for Wayne Rooney, which is unthinkable at any club, let alone one the size of Newcastle and with such a respected figure at the helm.

Despite all of Robson's achievements he will undoubtedly leave Newcastle an unfulfilled man and not just because the team he assembled never fulfilled its potential. One of his mantras is that "Premiership footballers cannot be monks" and while that is wholly reasonable, Robson failed to impose any semblance of off-field discipline among his squad. And so there was a never-ending catalogue of unsavoury incidents involving players such as Craig Bellamy, Titus Bramble and Kieron Dyer.

It is now Shepherd's job to restore order. Given that he is not the most popular of chairmen, and has never been forgiven for abusing Newcastle fans and making derogatory remarks about women, and was caught visiting prostitutes in Spain, it is a tall order. And one that has become all the more difficult for the appalling way in which Robson has been treated.

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