Goals to Newcastle

The signing of Michael Owen represents a significant coup for The Toon, but the real problem at St. James' Park is Graeme Souness.

I’m writing this column on the eve of Ireland’s World Cup qualifier against France, and hoping that we produce a big performance against a side that on their day are a match for anybody in the world.

There was a bit of a kerfuffle about some of the Irish lads going out for a drink the Saturday beforehand, but as long as that was the cut off point I don’t think it should be an issue.

What I would question is the wisdom of them doing their socialising in a high-profile nightclub where there’s bound to be photographers stationed outside. The story wouldn’t have been nearly so juicy if those pints had been drunk in a restaurant with a meal.

The real issue relating to Robbie Keane is that he didn’t get a move away from White Hart Lane before the transfer deadline. Robbie, like the rest of the Ireland team, needs to be playing regular first team football which Martin Jol has made it clear he won’t be getting this season at Totenham. Elsewhere up front, you’ve got Gary Doherty being frozen out at Norwich; Stephen Elliott sitting on the bench at Sunderland; and Clinton Morrison dropping down a division and still not being guaranteed a game because Crystal Palace are always going to go with Andy Johnson as their first-choice striker.

None of that’s good for them or Brian Kerr who will have to have another look at David Connolly if he starts getting goals at Wigan. I know Brian and him had a bit of a falling out, but David’s a good poacher and warrants a place in the squad ahead of some of the others.

The biggest bit of business last week was obviously Michael Owen moving to Newcastle, which had more to do with it being World Cup year than any desire on his part to go to Tyneside.

I’ve no doubt that he’ll bang in 15 to 20 goals this season for the Magpies, but that won’t alter the fact that they’re dreadful at the back.

In Jean-Alain Boumsong and Titus Bramble, they’ve two of the most mistake-prone defenders in the division and Babayaro has yet to live up to Graeme Souness’ expectations.

Then there’s Souness himself who let’s not forget was 17th in the Premiership with Blackburn when Freddy Shephard hired him. The probability is that had he stayed at Ewood Park he’d have been sacked.

You’ve also got to question the man management skills of somebody who fell out with Robbie Fowler at Liverpool, Andy Cole and Dwight Yorke at Blackburn and Craig Bellamy at Newcastle. I’m not saying it was all his fault, but there’s a history of confrontation that makes me question whether Graeme’s the man for the Newcastle rebuilding job. Michael Owen or not, I still reckon he’ll do well to see the season out at St. James’ Park.

Given the £17 million price tag and the fact that Djibril Cisse’s now fully fit, Liverpool were right not to up their offer for Michael whose form wasn’t the best 12 months ago when he left Anfield.

What Rafael Benitez can be criticised for is not giving Cisse the run in the side he deserves. Thierry Henry and Robert Pires both got off to a slow start at Arsenal, but Arsene Wenger stuck with them and was rewarded for his faith.

The mood at Anfield won’t have been lightened by the fact that theirs is the toughest of all the Champions’ League groups. In addition to my favourites to win the competition, Chelsea, they’ve got to play Anderlecht and Real Betis who are both capable of taking points off them.

The draw was far kinder to Manchester United and Arsenal who you’d both fancy to go through to the next stage. I’d be less confident if they were to come up against Barcelona or either of the two Milans who are my other tips for the semis. In Adriano Inter have the best striker in Europe, and AC will be looking to make up for last season’s Istanbul nightmare.

All in all, there’s a lot to look forward to!

 

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