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Quite how far Michael Owen’s career has nosedived was underlined at the weekend when the Newcastle United striker was again overlooked for his country despite the lack of attacking options for coach Fabio Capello.
Capello watched three of his squad strikers hobble off at Wembley on Saturday during the 4-0 friendly victory over Slovakia with Emile Heskey and Carlton Cole both ruled out of Wednesday’s World Cup qualifier against Ukraine.
With Peter Crouch also carrying a knock, surely the time had come for Capello to get on the telephone to Owen, a player with 40 goals in 89 appearances for his country and who was voted Europe’s best player in 2001.
Instead, Capello bluntly dismissed the case for Owen, saying he felt the striker was not playing well enough for his club. Capello turned to the much-maligned Darren Bent, a willing runner but hardly a finisher in the same class as Owen.
The phrase, if you are interested, was used for many years to describe the passion for football in the region before a scholarly book by reknowned journalist Arthur Appleton “Hotbed of Soccer – the story of football in the North East” was published in 1960 and told a mainly successful story.
As Dimitar Berbatov sluggishly rolled in Manchester United’s winner at Newcastle United on Wednesday it suddenly occurred to me that the Premier League season that threatened a different story is heading for a very familiar ending.
At the top, the midweek matches saw United record their 11th consecutive league win and strengthen their grasp on the title, while Chelsea and Liverpool consolidated Champions League spots and Arsenal made up ground on an Aston Villa side which might just be running out of steam.
Not since Biffa Bacon hit the pages of Viz have so many swear words come out of Newcastle as interim manager Jo Kinnear made an immediate impact in his first week in charge.*
The 61-year-old Kinnear has been out of the game for four years and it was almost as if he had spent the entire time building up to bursting point with his dislike of the Press.
It’s been a torrid time for Newcastle, with Kevin Keegan gone, Mike Ashley going, the fans protesting and the team second from bottom in the Premier League, but news that Terry Venables has decided not to return to football to take over the manager’s job actually means things are looking up.
El Tel’s main achievements in club management came in the 1980s with Queens Park Rangers and Barcelona, before a memorable, but ultimately unsuccessful, ride with England at Euro 96.
The trouble at Newcastle United continued on Sunday when owner Mike Ashley finally gave in to fans’ protests and put the club up for sale. That decision will delight a lot of Geordies, maybe, but has Ashley really been that bad?
Ashley would seem to fit the owner profile many supporters want. He wears the club colours and stands with the fans on matchdays. On taking over he quickly stoked the desire for silverware among the supporters by indicating that he shared their ambition. He was one of them.
Kevin Keegan resigned as manager of Newcastle United on Thursday, less than eight months after taking charge of the Premier League club for the second time.
Keegan said in a statement that he had been left with “no choice” because of the way the club was being run.
With the top four never changing, it is almost more entertaining following the Premier League when there are no matches taking place. So it proved this week, from the takeover and mega-spending at Manchester City to the Kevin Keegan saga at Newcastle and Alan Curbishley’s exit from West Ham.
Curbishley claimed that his position had been undermined by the men in suits selling players without his approval and that is the underlying sub-plot that links all three acts in this week’s Premier League soap opera.
Whilst Manchester City fans were still pinching themselves at becoming one of the world’s richest clubs, Curbishley has quit his post despite two wins from his opening three league games.