Exposed once again, Newcastle United were last night considering their options after Terry Venables informed them yesterday afternoon that he was not prepared to stand in as manager in a temporary capacity. Venables was unimpressed that Newcastle were prepared to offer him the job only on a match-to-match basis and if the Newcastle regime of their owner Mike Ashley has no remaining credibility on Tyneside, that opinion is sure to be shared elsewhere now.
Newcastle's options were severely limited by the state of the club before the approach to Venables but yesterday's developments worsen the situation and will provoke further accusations of incompetence.
"There was far too much uncertainty involved," said Venables yesterday. "All they could guarantee was that I'd be in a job until Mike Ashley sells the club – whenever that might be."
Glenn Hoddle, who has also been sounded out, may not be delighted that Venables has been offered a position before him, but Hoddle does have that Chelsea connection with Dennis Wise, the club's executive director. Hoddle has been out of management since leaving Wolves two years ago.
There is a fear locally that Wise could put himself forward as a candidate for the dugout, or the much-lampooned David O'Leary – though so scattergun is Ashley's search, were Kevin Keegan to be reapproached no one would be surprised. That would at least please fans and Newcastle players and yet equally, if Hoddle says it is not for him then Wise's next recommendation could be Dave Bassett. Bassett joined Wise at Leeds as assistant when Gus Poyet left, having previously worked with Wise at Wimbledon, Leicester and Southampton. But Bassett's is not a name that will spark the demoralised dressing room, nor would it appease an increasingly militant fan base. Whether Hoddle's would is also open to question.
Newcastle fans have demonstrated their power over the past few weeks, forming a new and independent supporters' club and advocating a so far successful boycott of club merchandise and produce. Before tomorrow's match against Blackburn Rovers 20,000 leaflets will be distributed outside St James' Park urging other fans to join the anti-Ashley campaign.
There was no obvious progress on an Ashley sale yesterday, though there was more noise about the Nigerian consortium. Potential buyers will surely look at the next two Newcastle games prior to the international break – Blackburn, then Everton away – and think that if both are lost the club will be cheaper to buy or Ashley more desperate to sell.
Had Ashley or Wise come up with a workable proposition, even the structural uncertainty of the club might not have put off Venables. Had, for example, Newcastle said they could offer a three-month contract which they would honour regardless of whether the club was sold in that period, Venables may have been at the Benton training ground this morning.
The absence of an attractive timeframe gave Venables no chance. Ultimately the football man within him knew that the situation was more likely to be lose-lose than win-win. "Newcastle means too much to too many people to take the job on a short-term basis," said Venables.
Having had an initial approach on Wednesday morning by telephone, Venables resisted a face-to-face meeting until Wednesday night. Newcastle were playing at St James' but the directors and Venables were in London. There was confidence among the Newcastle hierarchy, from Wise in particular, that Venables would accept. Wise told friends as much on Wednesday.
Venables was offered non-specific terms then and said he would respond yesterday or today. There is a part of him that would like to take on a challenge like Newcastle and he was close to being Sir Bobby Robson's successor in 2004, but Newcastle have not been persuasive. Once again therefore it will be the caretaker Chris Hughton picking the team and trying to inspire a set of players drained of confidence on the pitch and disillusioned by events off it.
They know that Newcastle are in freefall. The 2-1 League Cup defeat against Tottenham on Wednesday was a fourth straight loss and the players looked shattered as they trudged off. As Keegan warned from the week he walked in, Newcastle's squad is too small and they could be bottom of the Premier League by Sunday afternoon.
"What happens off the field is nothing to do with us," said the centre-half Steven Taylor, who was in part responsible for Spurs' second goal. "We have just got to get on with it and give 100 per cent. A win on Saturday would push us back up the table, which would be great because the sooner people stop talking about this relegation dogfight the better."Reuse content