Originally published in True Faith 105.
Joe, Joe, Joe. Where do we start? Let’s ignore the incompetence, the insults liberally spread around those he should be courting just for a second. His most irritating feature then is possibly his Walter Mitty fantasy life, the one where the claims he makes of his achievements actually bear relation to reality. Three-time League Manager of the Year? No. Signed Krul? No. Would have kept Newcastle up? Laughable. He doesn’t seem to think anyone will notice when he invents something, and he ‘s probably pulled it off in the past when regaling some expat of his time in the SAS or when he broke the bank at Monte Cassino. When it comes to NUFC though, we were there ourselves. It’s like trying to bullshit that Mr Two Zero on walking home from Iraq. It’s a mixture of arrogance and ignorance that allows him to make his claims. Arrogance that he can stay one step ahead of the truth, ignorance that his efforts to do so are so transparent. Together, they add up to the worst combination since tattoos on the elderly.
Sam Allardyce is another whose favourite reminiscence of his time at Newcastle is that the club would never have been relegated with him in charge. When he left we were 11th, but he was forced out by a board who took too much notice of fans unwilling to give him the time to do his job. Like Kinnear though, he conveniently forgets the fixture list of his particular half-season in charge. Very few games against the eventual top sides, multiple instances of dropped points against the whipping boys. Allardyce never brings up the enormous sums wasted on the dross he bought that weighed the club down for years to follow either. Fans sang his name only days before his dismissal too but that doesn’t fit his agenda of protecting his reputation by making his sacking directly attributable to the power of a mob not party to received football wisdom. He claimed Scott Parker couldn’t settle in the North-East and asked to move, something Parker has since denied, clearly bewildered by the suggestion. Again it helps Allardyce’s position to portray the place as a storm-blasted wilderness which good players either wanted to leave or wouldn’t come to at all. Allardyce is a ruminant, by which I mean clumsy, easily-confused and constantly-chewing rather than the contemplative thinker he’d like to be seen as. His tactical gambits generally succeeded only in handing the initiative to the opposition, always attempting to contain rather than dominate. The containment generally failed and his side conceded a lot more goals than you’d expect from the arch-pragmatist. Good job Sam. Said nobody.
Graeme Souness similarly pulled off the feat of playing football just as unattractive to watch while not even managing solidity. His signings if anything were worse, his first January bringing in Babayaro, Boumsong and Amdy Faye for £10m. A masterclass in addressing a problem there. In the summer he loaned out future England international James Milner whose Newcastle career seemed to be over. His man-management skills saw key striker Craig Bellamy loaned out to Celtic then sold after a breakdown in their relationship. He took Bobby Robson’s team from 5th to 15th in just over a year. At least Souness appears to accept his time at Newcastle was a disaster. Where his reimagining of history occurs is in his regrets at leaving Blackburn. He says if he’d stayed there he’d probably still be managing now, Newcastle having soured him for ever. The idea of anything being able to sour Souness further than he already was astonishes me, for one thing. But when he left Blackburn they were second bottom with 2 points from 5 games and were on the verge of sacking him anyway. In another dimension there may be a Souness who stayed at Blackburn and was sacked soon afterwards. That Souness is probably bleating to this day about how he wishes he’d taken the Newcastle job. Just like Isaac Hayes he’s a victim of circumstance, cast adrift on a sea of shifting events entirely unconnected to his own actions.
Which brings us to Mr Propaganda himself, the goal-hanging Goebbels, the injury-prone agitpropist, Michael Owen. At the time his Newcastle contract was expiring, Owen circulated his infamous brochure around clubs, which emphasised his goalscoring stats and Six Million Dollar Man-like physical condition. “We can rebuild him…we have the technology.” Except they couldn’t. Sir Alex Ferguson must have experienced a Wizard of Oz moment early in Owen’s Manchester United career as he drew back a curtain to reveal not the feared deadly international striker he had been expecting but a physically-fragile has-been. He’s not averse to the striker’s favourite excuse, “give me chances and I’ll score”, but he forgets those chances kept coming and kept on a-begging. If anyone could have kept us up by performing better it was him. Deflecting away from that, much of Owen’s rewriting of his Newcastle career has been to speak as if he hadn’t actually been part of a team that was relegated, somehow detached from blame. We saw you Michael. You might not have done much but you were there.
One of these days someone’s going to rewrite history and we’ll end up with loads of trophies. Until then it looks like we have to put up with this self-justification by the self-obsessed.