Shearer brings belief to Newcastle survival fight
Confidence and camaraderie the key as new manager gets down to work
Friday 03 April 2009
You may have forgotten Francisco Jimenez Tejada – "Xisco". He is Newcastle's No 19, bought from Deportivo La Coruna for £5.7m last summer: a 22-year-old striker, when Kevin Keegan was looking for an experienced left-back.
Xisco scored on his debut, a barely-remembered detail of that "Cockney Mafia Out" day last September. Xisco has started two games since and when he has, he has looked out of his depth. Joe Kinnear spoke of trying to offload him in January.
So Xisco is the opposite of a former Newcastle No 9. But when Shearer put his arm around Xisco yesterday morning, one of several to get that treatment, Shearer was making a clean-slate statement. That is hardly unique, it is a mantra of all new managers. But some don't mean it. Shearer, by his actions with Spanish-speakers such as Xisco, Jose Enrique and Jonas Gutierrez, showed that he knows he needs all he can drain from the resources of a lopsided squad if this is to work.
As Iain Dowie planted cones, drilled drills and shouted and shouted, Shearer worked his way around his new players. When, two hours later, he spoke to the Newcastle world, two of the words repeated most were "confidence" and "enjoyment".
Two others were "Terry" and "Venables". Prior to Euro 96 Shearer famously endured 12 England games over almost two years without scoring. Debate raged as to whether Shearer should be included in the England team when the tournament began. Venables, Shearer recalled, "said to me: 'You will be starting the tournament.' I always remember the belief and confidence that gave me. I thought that was a great piece of man-management. That stood out for me."
Shearer scored 22 minutes into the tournament's opening game against Switzerland. That was the only managerial anecdote Shearer provided – this was not really the setting for more – but a man who has played under Keegan, Dalglish, Robson and more said he will be prepared to consult all if necessary. He said he might even take up Joe Kinnear's offer of a squad run-down.
"I will speak to Kevin, I will speak to Kenny, I will speak to Bobby, I will speak to Terry, I will speak to Glenn Hoddle," Shearer said. "It is important I try to tap into all the experience I can. I will need it."
Shearer was talking about Michael Owen at the time of the Venables story. Owen has scored once in his last 10 Newcastle games – though he has 10 goals this season – and as Dowie might point out, injecting optimism is not rocket science. But that is one of many things Newcastle lack.
"I stressed to the players that I enjoyed my football and I have watched Newcastle over the past few weeks and months and, for whatever reason, they didn't seem to be enjoying it," Shearer said. "The confidence was low.
"They came in today and they had buzz around them, a smile on their face. I think that is important, you have to enjoy what you do and I don't think they were. They did this morning and we have to keep that going and hopefully take that in to the match on Saturday."
The visitors are Chelsea and they carry with them the possibility of a rude awakening. It was after Chelsea's last visit, a 2-0 defeat at the end of last season, that Keegan said that Newcastle were "a million miles away" from the top four, a comment that caused Keegan to be hauled in front of owner Mike Ashley to explain.
Owen, Obafemi Martins and Mark Viduka all played that afternoon. Newcastle's squad has lost Shay Given, James Milner and Charles N'Zogbia since.
And when it comes down to it, Newcastle's playing staff is still that which has produced one victory in its last 12 Premier League games. Deep down Shearer appreciates that but he has to get them to think differently.
In assistants Dowie and Paul Ferris, at least he will not have "yes men". "We have a very open and frank relationship which, to be fair, works very well," Dowie said. "We've brought Paul on board, who's very similarly minded – and he's a trained barrister as well, so he's a bright lad."
Having been together at Southampton in the early 1990s, Dowie and Shearer looked strong and comfortable as a pair. Dowie was unlikely to be critical of Shearer but when asked about Newcastle's new manager, the former Crystal Palace and Charlton manager delivered more than platitudes.
"There was always something very single-minded about him," Dowie said. "I think it's unusual that you get someone who's able to say the salient thing at the right time, but Alan doesn't tread on eggshells: he tells you how it is. That's very important. He's always been that way.
"It would have been easy for him to stay where he was, but even in the phone call to me, from minute one, he projected a very positive aura. He obviously knows that I'm a tracksuit manager and that I like to get involved in the coaching. I've come in to try and shape the team that Alan wants.
"We dovetailed very well in training this morning. Alan chipped in with some very good points at crucial times. There was a sense that it was a fresh dawn."
'It's desperate measures for desperate times': Experts give their verdicts
Paul Gascoigne (former Newcastle player): "When he was doing his first coaching badge, I took part in that and I knew he had it in him then to be the club's manager."
Chris Waddle (former Newcastle player): "Management's not like playing and Alan will find that out. They will have to do a lot of hard work in training and he's got to get the confidence and belief back in the Newcastle squad."
Sir John Hall (former club owner): "It's desperate measures for desperate times. I would have preferred Shearer to be a long-term appointment."
Mark Lawrenson (TV pundit): He's got no experience, but people like Jürgen Klinsmann and Franz Beckenbauer at Germany came in with no experience as well."
Bob Moncur (former Newcastle captain): "Alan has made a big decision, not necessarily for himself but for the club. He is the people's choice; he's the man that can save us."
Mick Quinn (former Newcastle player): "He was destined to be Newcastle manager at some point. What a tonic for Michael Owen as well. They were team-mates at England and got on fairly well."
Mark Hughes (Man City manager): "It's a good situation from Alan's point of view, because with eight games to go they are in a difficult situation and it's not really of Alan's doing and if he fails. No one is going to criticise him too readily.
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