Subdued welcome as Newcastle announce capture of Bowyer

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The Independent Football

The announcement that Newcastle United had signed an England international who had been twice voted player of the year at Leeds would usually be a cause for celebration on Tyneside - but not where Lee Bowyer is concerned.

Should the 26-year-old agree personal terms on his four-year contract and rejoin Jonathan Woodgate at St James' Park, he is likely to divide a set of supporters who, when Newcastle overcame Leeds at Elland Road, sang: "Lee Bowyer, I wanna know why you're not in jail."

It is true that Bowyer was acquitted of affray against Sarfraz Najeib, the student attacked outside a Leeds nightclub three years ago, and that Woodgate, who was convicted, has settled in effortlessly since his £9m transfer. But Bowyer is an altogether harder character, who, unlike Woodgate, showed no public remorse for his actions and initially refused to pay the fine of four weeks' wages imposed by Leeds for his behaviour on the fateful night.

Save for the wise heads of Alan Shearer and Gary Speed, the Newcastle dressing-room is mostly young and sometimes volatile. Kieron Dyer's escapades have been chronicled but the real concerns centre around Craig Bellamy, who in February 2002 was cautioned by police for punching a woman in Newcastle, and who will appear at Cardiff magistrates this summer after a customer was allegedly abused at a nightclub in the Welsh capital.

Newcastle's leading fans' website, Nufc.com, yesterday delivered an impassioned editorial against the Bowyer deal. "For the chairman to use the local media to rage about getting the dressing-room cleaned up, and then within days sanction the acquisition of a walking time-bomb, sends out a mixed message.

"Sad to say that Bobby Robson's halo has slipped for wanting to bring in Bowyer."

Nufc.com's co-editor, Mike Bolam, said the site had already received more than 1,000 e-mails on the subject of Bowyer's transfer. "It has polarised opinion completely," he said. "We have had messages saying he's a good bloke to those totally condemning the club."

Newcastle badly need a midfielder capable of breaking up attacks. The fading away of their title challenge coincided with an injury to Speed and without the Wales captain Newcastle had plenty of flair but too little grit in the middle of the pitch.

Although the club's official statement confirming Bowyer's signing stated that Robson was "confident Lee will be an asset to Newcastle United", there are doubts just how valuable he will be. During his trial, Bowyer was an inspired, driven character but something inside of him seemed to fade upon his acquittal.

A proposed transfer to Liverpool fell through because Gérard Houllier felt Bowyer was insufficiently committed. His final performances for Leeds were memorable only for the ghastly stamp on the Malaga midfielder, Gerardo, which triggered a six-match Uefa ban that will render him ineligible for the bulk of Newcastle's Champions' League campaign. His leaving of Yorkshire to join his boyhood club West Ham in their hour of need might have been expected to spark something dramatic but his displays were desultory. As a footballer, the jury on Bowyer is still out.

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