Souness stresses value of Shearer to the quiet revolution

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The Independent Football

The younger Graeme Souness would have pinned Kieron Dyer to the wall, counted the days until Alan Shearer's retirement and made plans to rip the heart out of Newcastle United. The older, milder, wiser Souness will be doing no such thing. On his first day at St James' Park, he talked of merely having to tinker with what Sir Bobby Robson had built, of persuading Shearer to lead Newcastle's attack beyond his planned farewell in May and, as for Dyer, he employed the word "education" more than Tony Blair in an election campaign.

"If Alan Shearer scores 20 goals, I'll be plaguing him not to retire, if he scores 15 I'll still be plaguing him," Souness said. "Do you want 15 goals in the Premier League? Go and ask any manager today and they will bite your hand off.

"I see him as someone who is invaluable to me. I went to Liverpool when I was 22, I was the finished article in my opinion, I knew the answers to every question and I got bashed up verbally by the senior players for the first couple of months. They had a European Cup medal and half-a-dozen championships. I learned so much from them and, when I became a senior pro, I like to think I passed that information down the line."

Dyer, booed when he played for England at St James' Park and whose mixture of conspicuous consumption, troubled private life and tossed-away talent has a soap-opera quality, will receive a clean slate and sympathy.

"Who, at 22, 23 and 24 doesn't make a mistake? Who at that age does not need educating and need an arm put round them?" Souness asked. "He has learned something in the last couple of weeks about life. But, if you keep making the mistakes, you're a dope if you want to play at this level.

"If you analyse a young footballer's life, he's going to be told he's fantastic by his family, his mates, the media and the manager comes on and says: 'hold on, you didn't play well on Saturday, in fact you were crap'.

"Part of my job is educating these players and I'm better suited to doing that at 51 than I was at 33 when I became manager of Rangers."

At Ibrox, where he shook Rangers by the throat until they became successful, Souness confessed to being "too aggressive, too confrontational".

Like George Graham, Souness is a playboy turned disciplinarian and now he smiles at memories of his younger self. "I was young once, nobody liked a night out more than me and I used to come here for one. The players have to understand that now is a different time. I don't believe there's a group of monsters in that dressing-room who need a big stick. There are a group of young men - and I've got sons that age - who need educating... that outside this goldfish bowl called football, the world is a very different place."

With a two-year contract, which will become a one-year rolling deal in 2006, Souness's first task is to strengthen a central defence undermined by the sale of Jonathan Woodgate to Real Madrid. With no transfers possible until January, the only solution has been to offer the 35-year-old Ronny Johnsen, without a club since being released by Aston Villa, a contract until Christmas. It is not quite the "pleasant surprise" the Newcastle chairman, Freddy Shepherd, said would result from Woodgate's sale.

The expectation is enormous, not least because of the quality of player he has inherited. Souness argues he works best in footballing cauldrons; in Liverpool, Glasgow and Istanbul. That intensity was something he missed at Blackburn and he said the time was right for him to go; a notion shared by anyone watching Rovers' abject display at St James' on Saturday.

"When I went to work for Rangers and Liverpool, they were in decline. I had a group of players at Rangers I had to change dramatically. When I went to Liverpool the players were past their peak and the number of testimonials I had at Anfield demonstrates that. Here, I am inheriting a group of footballers who are only going to get better; financially the club is in great nick, everything is in place."

Job on the Tyne: recent managers

Sir Bobby Robson 1999-04

Current status: Unemployed.

Ruud Gullit 1998-1999

Current status: Manager of Feyenoord.

Kenny Dalglish 1997-1998

Current status: Linked to high-profile jobs when they arise.

Kevin Keegan 1992-1997

Current status: Manager of Manchester City.