Venables favourite to replace Robson

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The Independent Football

Newcastle United are considering an approach to Terry Venables to become their manager to work alongside Alan Shearer until the end of the season following the abrupt sacking of Sir Bobby Robson yesterday.

Newcastle United are considering an approach to Terry Venables to become their manager to work alongside Alan Shearer until the end of the season following the abrupt sacking of Sir Bobby Robson yesterday.

The club would swap one former England coach for another while Shearer, who has wavered between going into management or the media, having signed a contract with the BBC, is groomed to take over next summer when he retires as a player.

Shearer has a strong relationship with Venables - dating back to when the coach offered full support to him in the run-up to Euro 96 - and is thought to be keen on the appointment even if it has come sooner than expected. If he proved a success Newcastle could keep Venables on after the end of this season, possibly in a director of football role, especially as Gordon Milne, who held that position, and Robson's assistant John Carver and chief scout Charlie Woods also left the Tyneside club yesterday.

There appears to be some doubt, however, as to whether Venables, now 61, would be keen to throw himself back into Premiership football following his unhappy departure last year from Leeds United. However, he did once fulfil a role similar to the one he may be asked to do at Newcastle when he bailed out Middlesbrough as they struggled under their former manager Bryan Robson. Yesterday Robson said he thought it unlikely Venables would return. Ironically, Venables is due to become coach of another Newcastle United - the Australian club - later this year after he recovers from a hip operation.

An alternative target for Newcastle could be the former Liverpool manager Gérard Houllier - who is currently working as a pundit for French television - and he could, similarly, be asked to support Shearer. Southampton, after the sacking of Paul Sturrock, have already expressed an interest in Houllier but the Frenchman believes he has one more club job to do and would regard Newcastle, rather than the Saints, as far more likely to satisfy his ambition.

The fact that Newcastle are scrambling around for a solution shows that yesterday's events were not scheduled, despite the warning over the weekend from the chairman Freddy Shepherd that Robson had fewer than six games to turn things around. This followed a frustrating start to the season - two draws, two defeats - which included Saturday's 4-2 loss against Aston Villa with Shearer only coming on as a late substitute.

The fall-out from the match prompted Robson to request a 9am meeting yesterday when he challenged Shepherd. He was told he was sacked with immediate effect, bringing to an end his five-year reign. Both men were yesterday said to be visibly upset.

A statement issued by Newcastle read: "After a disappointing start to the season, the directors of Newcastle United have informed Sir Bobby Robson that they have decided that he is to be replaced as Team Manager. The directors wish to place on record their thanks for the way in which Sir Bobby has worked tirelessly over the past five years to try and bring success to the club. There is no hesitation by the club in recording its sincere appreciation for the way in which Sir Bobby has handled team affairs during that five-year spell which has seen a significant turnaround in the club's fortunes."

Robson himself added: "I am massively disappointed not to be able to finish the job I came here to do. I have immensely enjoyed my time here as manager, and I wish the club all the best of success in the future.

"I have had a marvellous time at the club, it has been a phenomenal experience. I am black and white through and through. I am sorry to leave. It has not been easy for me today, but it is football and I have to get on with my life."

Newcastle were in relegation trouble when Robson took over and, although the team improved, they still failed to win a trophy. The 71-year-old was originally on a 12-month rolling contract which was converted into a one-year deal until 2005. Much to Robson's annoyance, Shepherd had already let it be known publicly that the deal would not be renewed. The manager's position was not helped by persistent rumours of player unrest with Kieron Dyer forced into making a public apology after refusing to play out of position.

If neither Venables nor Houllier are secured Newcastle will look elsewhere. Martin O'Neill would be the fans' favourite and may be finally prised from Celtic, but not until the end of the season, while Birmingham City yesterday tried to warn Newcastle away from Steve Bruce who has just signed a new five-year deal. Bizarrely, John Gregory's name was mentioned in some quarters while Newcastle may rue the day they failed to follow through an initial interest in Jose Mourinho, now at Chelsea, and Robson's one-time assistant who he had considered taking to St James' Park with him.

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