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Saturday, Jan. 12, 2008

PREMIER REPORT

Vote of confidence kiss of death for Allardyce with Magpies


LONDON — Sam Allardyce probably knew the end was in sight when Newcastle United owner Mike Ashley and chairman Chris Mort said it wasn't. Ashley's stock reply to speculation about his manager's future was to tell people not to listen to rumors.

Christopher Davies

So on Wednesday, Allardyce was sacked, excuse me, left the club by mutual consent. No manager is sacked these days.

Quite what mutual consent is heaven only knows. A manager either resigns or is shown the front door, but in the politically correct (and litigious) world of Planet Football, it's now mutual consent which gives the impression of a 50-50 decision.

Yeah, right.

The £4 million compensation Allardyce will collect eight months after leaving Bolton for the revolving door manager's office at Newcastle certainly softens the blow of his exit.

He is the eighth Premier League manager to leave his club this season — the single-season record of 11 casualties in 1994-95 is set to be broken — and the seventh manager Newcastle has had since 1997.

One day they'll get it right, but even when they did with Sir Bobby Robson — two tope-five finishes — they still sacked him.

Allardyce was not Ashley's appointment, having joined the Magpies shortly before he bought the club from Freddy Shepherd in a £134 million takeover.

Ashley knew what he was inheriting, though. Big Sam's style — or lack of it some would say — more route one and physical confrontation than the Hollywood football started by Kevin Keegan in 1992.

While Bolton wasn't too fussy about the way the team played as Allardyce established it as a Premier League force, there are certain expectations at Newcastle which do not include hoofing the ball over Michael Owen's head for him to chase.

Even so, Newcastle is not staring relegation in the face. It is 11th and 10 points — or a decent run — off a European place. Things could be better, but they could also be a lot worse. It is not so much Newcastle's lack of points but its lack of finesse that cost Allardyce dearly.

His transfer dealings did not help his cause. Allardyce brought in nine new players last summer, including £6.5 million Jose Enrique and £2.9 million David Rozehnal, while Claudio Cacapa arrived on a free transfer from Lyon.

All three are defenders and all three have, at best, been disappointing.

His biggest gamble was Joey Barton, who cost £5.8 million from Manchester City. Allardyce called Barton's arrival a "coup," but the midfielder has been troubled by injuries, criticized the Newcastle fans, and spent the new year in prison, after being charged with assault and affray, not his first such brush with the law.

Barton's off-field problems surprised no one except, it seems, Allardyce, who committed a public relations own-goal a few weeks ago when he said he was not happy with his future being in the hands of his players.

Allardyce left Bolton after a row with chairman Phil Gartside, though, perhaps he felt he had taken it as far as he could and wanted the challenge of a big club.

In terms of support, Newcastle is a big club but with a small trophy cabinet, the 1969 Fairs Cup the last pot to find it way to St. James' Park. However, its problems date back decades, not months.

I've left a football club that is very, very healthy," Allardyce said when he departed Bolton. "So when my time to leave Newcastle does come I hope I have done the same here."

Eight months down the line Newcastle is treading water in mid-table and Allardyce, less than two years ago a candidate to succeed Sven-Goran Eriksson as England's head coach, is out of work.

Ashley had better get it right with his first managerial appointment. The fans want the club's record goal-scorer Alan Shearer to give up the luxury and relative calm of the television studio to become the latest candidate to leave Newcastle by "mutual consent" some time in the near future.

Word is Shearer, on holiday in the West Indies, doe s not feel he is ready for management just yet. As a player Shearer's timing was impeccable and he knows the time is not right to jump into the mess that is his old club.

Harry Redknapp has been installed as the favorite to succeed Allardyce, but he has a good thing going at Portsmouth and would be reluctant to leave the beautiful family home in nearby Poole that he treasures.

"There's nothing in my being linked with the job," said Redknapp. "I had an offer not so long ago to take over what I consider a massive club, but I didn't go. I am happy on the south coast."

Redknapp stopped short of saying he wouldn't take the Newcastle job, while another name in the frame is Blackburn's Mark Hughes.

Blackburn is a club roughly the same size as Bolton, and like Allardyce, Hughes might feel he has gone as far as he can at Ewood Park, yet history has shown Newcastle is not necessarily the best next step.

Yet it would be madness if Ashley did not have a successor lined up before Allardyce left Newcastle. Accepting that football works differently from other industries — appointing a manager, allowing him to spend £25 million on players, and eight months later by, ahem, "mutual consent" letting him go — it is suicidal to allow Allardyce to go without a Plan B in place.

Assistant manager Nigel Pearson will be in charge for Saturday's Premier League game against Manchester United.

Christopher Davies writes about the Premier League for the London Daily Telegraph.


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