Saturday, May 23, 2009

United's "weakened team" debate: North East clubs have themselves to blame...

Going into the final day of the season we've been hearing a lot of pre-match squealing emanating from the so-called "hot-bed of football" aka the North East, with talk of Manchester United being potentially sued if Fergie selects a "weakened side" on Sunday when the champions face Hull City. Aside from the fact that this threat will not come to fruition, it's worth pointing out that according to Sky's Andy Gray and Martin Tyler if two English clubs reached the Champions League Final, the Premier League would bring forward the last round of games by 24 hours. United have reached the final, but for whatever reason, the Premier League did not bring forward the last round of matches.

In response to the bleating, Fergie has promised to send out a strong team on Sunday, but anyone who believes the United manager will select many of the players likely to start next Wednesday's Champions League Final is to say the least deluded. Nonetheless, two clubs will be relegated on Sunday along with WBA and so we can expect the carping to continue for weeks and months ahead. It isn't surprising there's been so much debate about this particular issue given what is at stake, but supporters of the clubs in question really should take a long hard look at their own self-made mess before floating the ridiculous suggestion that Manchester United could be potentially sued.

Earlier this week the BBC Sport website published an article asking why the North East Premier League clubs have found themselves at the wrong end of the table as they stare relegation in the face ahead of the last day of the season. Several "experts" including local BBC match commentators were asked for their opinions, various insightful gems were put forward for the dire situation Newcastle, 'Boro, Sunderland and Hull find themselves in; "haven't won enough games" was one which springs to mind. However, it doesn't take an expert to point out that the real problem at especially Newcastle, Boro and Sunderland lies at the door of the club's owners'.

Newcastle parted company with one of the few managers who knows how to keep a club in England's top division without spending a king’s ransom - I refer to Sam Allardyce. Apparently, the playing style of the former Bolton manager didn't sit well with the Magpies - more fool them for getting rid. Like him or loathe him, Kevin Keegan, was another who fell out with Newcastle's owners and so he parted company. No one is to blame for the unfortunate illness as far as Joe Kinnear's is concerned.

In a bid to save themselves from relegation, to the glee of the Geordie nation another 'messiah' Alan Shearer was engaged, but given his lack of management experience you do wonder if this was a wise choice, even though it was definitely a popular one.

As far as 'Boro are concerned, here again they went for the popular choice when choosing to appoint a former player. It may well have been another crowd-pleaser, but personally I worry about anyone who is still sporting a mullet in 2009. Far worse, Southgate is another who lacked experience - wouldn't someone like Roy Hodgson have been a more sensible option?

The surprise appointment of Roy Keane at Sunderland was described by Niall Quinn as a "world-class", which was stretching the facts a bit given it was his first job. Keane will always be a Manchester United legend, he surprised many observers with his apparent touchline coolness, but all the time you wondered if the aggression which all too often manifested itself on the field of play was lurking just beneath this new found thin veneer of self-control. There's no doubt Keane did a fine job when leading the Black Cats to promotion, even if he achieved relative success too soon and perhaps he needed more time to learn the job.

When Keane eventually parted company with Sunderland it came as no great surprise, many viewed it as a car-crash waiting to happen and the jury remains out on the Irishman following his latest appointment at Ipswich. After much talking and with big names being linked to the Sunderland job, Ricky Sbragia was given the task of saving the club, having only assisted Sam Allardyce as first-team coach at Bolton for two years, here again he lacked experience and so it was another shot-in-the-dark.

Phil Brown is the exception where experience is concerned, before taking the post at Hull City, the Tigers' manager spent many years learning his trade as a number two, serving the likes of Sam Allardyce (six years) and Colin Todd. Given the relative size of Hull City compared to the three other North East clubs, Brown has done an exceptional job and if there's any justice Hull will remain in England's top division.

If Newcastle go down, as I expect, you do wonder what will become of the Magpies in the future, but let no one kid you they have brought relegation upon themselves.

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