Alan Shearer is to take charge at Newcastle United for the last eight games of the season after the owner Mike Ashley last night performed a last-ditch about-turn to stave off what would be the financial meltdown of a relegation from the Premier League. Sensational is overused in football as a description but this development is sensational.
There was no official comment from either party, which served to heighten the frenzy on Tyneside as last evening unfolded, but Shearer confirmed to friends that the explosive rumour was based in fact. The club are expected to make an announcement this morning and Shearer will then take his first training session tomorrow. Shearer has his A and B coaching badges, and there should be no complaints over his temporary appointment. The BBC's Match of the Day may be keen to hear from him though.
Those close to Shearer agreed that it would represent not just a gamble by both, but also an enormous U-turn by Ashley in his attitude towards the club's legendary striker. Despite Shearer's status at St James' Park, Ashley has barely exchanged a word with Shearer since first buying shares in the club in May 2007.
In turn, Shearer will be risking some of his reputation, but the 38-year-old former England captain is unlikely to have agreed to any such situation unless it is on his terms, and strongly on his terms. It is inconceivable that Shearer has not been offered managerial positions since his rertirement from playing. The initial deal may be for eight matches, but Shearer is likely to be thinking in the longer term; he will want the authority to turn the club upside down and inside out – should Newcastle stay up. That, of course, is what Kevin Keegan hoped he would be allowed to do. Keegan was not provided with the power to do that but Newcastle are in dire trouble at the foot of the Premier League and Shearer's hand is strong.
Newcastle have these eight games to save themselves, beginning at home to Chelsea on Saturday. At least one of the players signed in January had no relegation clause inserted into his contract even at that stage. In such circumstances, Ashley knew that his investment, already devalued by a tumultuous season and the credit crunch, would be near to being wiped out.
Shearer is set to be unveiled tomorrow and will in the first instance cause an uplift in the stands. However, whether Shearer can motivate an average playing staff to beat Chelsea is another matter, though Newcastle will go to the match at Stoke City the following Saturday with far greater conviction than now. After that home games against Portsmouth, Middlesbrough and Fulham look much more inviting than they did yesterday morning.
It was the latest amazing twist in a season that began with a 1-1 draw at Manchester United with Keegan in charge, and which has morphed into a blur of fan rebellion, acrimony and consternation in the case of Joe Kinnear's appointment.
What Shearer's arrival would mean for Kinnear is unknown but the 62-year-old, recuperating from a heart bypass operation, said on Monday that he will listen to medical advice if it says that he is not physically capable of returning to the dugout. Kinnear hinted at a director of football role and that implied that Dennis Wise would be leaving the club this summer. Shearer's appointment would surely hasten that.
Shearer's first task will be widely seen as restoring Michael Owen to the team and to the scoresheet, yet Shearer may wish to concentrate on a defence that is much less reliable than the one he joined at St James' in 1996, when he became the world's most expensive player. Newcastle have long be ridiculed for their defensive frailty but this season injuries have compounded a haphazard recruitment policy to leave the team weaker at the back than ever.
Shearer has been derided in certain quarters for "sitting on a sofa" but he took a major risk when he left Blackburn for Newcastle as a player – and not Old Trafford – and now he is taking another. How Newcastle could do with him on the pitch.