For Newcastle fans, watching the club must be nauseating. The last few seasons have offered little enjoyment on the pitch, and another relegation battle is on the cards. As a neutral, what’s more nauseating is listening to the weekly rants of club legend Alan Shearer. I get his frustration, as it’s clear what the club means to him, but he should be using his experience to give a more informative view of the current problems.
Shearer is speaking as a football fan rather than a player. He talks as if his sole experience of the team is watching them once a week. Speaking as a player doesn’t mean you have to play the game, but it takes more factors into account than what you see for 90 minutes on a Saturday. Plenty of fans are knowledgeable too, but sometimes emotion gets in the way and therefore they aren’t always right in what they believe is best for their club.
The ex-Magpies striker definitely falls into this category. Almost every defeat is down to the players’ lack of application. A classic supporter argument. After the recent defeat to Leicester, he typically bemoaned “a lack of effort, passion, commitment.” I’m not saying that isn’t true, but something is clearly fundamentally wrong which is making the players lose heart so easily.
At the weekend, Newcastle beat Liverpool 2-0, much to the surprise of the footballing world, and Shearer’s predictable reaction on his Twitter account read: “Wow what a result. When you’re committed and work hard, the rest follows. Great win at last. Well done @NUFC!!” Naturally that had something to do with it, but it takes more to win a game of football.
Clearly a lot of work went into that win on the training pitch from a tactical standpoint. As the plan unfolded successfully, it would have given Newcastle more belief, and this combined with the players’ work ethic led to an unexpected victory. Boiling it down to ‘the team that puts in more effort wins’ is doing football a bit of a disservice sometimes. Often it’s true in essence, but it shouldn’t be used as a stock explanation to a result — even when one team is ostensibly in trouble.
Shearer is experienced enough to know all this, but he adopts the same stance as someone in the stands who wants players to show commitment by playing constantly at full throttle. I can see why he thinks the team could be doing more, but some of his remarks, while adding shock value, are truly bizarre.
Against QPR at the end of last season, defender Fabricio Coloccini was blamed for Leroy Fer’s winner as he failed to throw himself in front of a shot he’d never have got near to. This season, he dug out Florian Thauvin for failing to track back in the 2-1 defeat to Watford. Fair point, but his reasoning: “you might be able to do that in the French league, you can’t in the Premier League.”
These are just recent examples, and could be observed by anyone, but they don’t offer any fresh insight into the plight at St. James’ Park. Following Newcastle’s latest humbling at Crystal Palace, Shearer inadvertently hit the nail on the head. Aside from suggesting the players don’t want to be coached, he commented that “those in charge of recruiting have got away with it as the players they’ve signed are just not good enough.”
And that’s a symptom of the root cause. I have far less inside knowledge of the club than Shearer, but I can confidently say that Newcastle’s on-pitch problems stem from an owner whose aim is to survive in the Premier League each year at minimal cost. This has led to a recruitment policy which targets cheap, inexperienced overseas imports, with the hope of unearthing a saleable asset every year to maximise profit.
The club is run on a relative shoestring nowadays, and purely from a business point of view – maximum return for minimum outlay. It’s therefore little surprise that they find themselves in relegation battles most years. A manager will only be sacked if it looks like he’s taking them down. Mid-table is most definitely a job well done.
A squad with little Premier League experience and the expectation about the club don’t add up to an ideal environment for unproven new arrivals. It’s hard to find a Newcastle player who has a strong influence on his teammates and helps them when things aren’t going smoothly. The players therefore lose morale more easily. Invariably, some imports will struggle to adapt, others will turn out to just not be good enough.
This brings me back to what Shearer was saying about the players strolling around looking confused as they come out for the second half. It’s because they are confused. That body language is a sign of a lack of leadership taking its effect on the team, not a lack of commitment. If morale is low and nobody is leading, even the basics like warming up are a struggle.
Anyone who’s played competitive football at any level knows that, but you care less about it when you have nothing to do with the playing side. You just want to see success. But this experience shouldn’t be forgotten. Frankly, it’s embarrassing to watch one of Newcastle’s most successful players speak like someone who’s called into a football phone-in just after a game most weeks.
Sure, Newcastle’s players could be doing better, but a bit of consideration shows you there’s a wider problem at work. All Shearer does when he offers his opinions is blend in with many of those who used to cheer him on in the late 90s and early 2000s