Tuesday 24 October 2017

Newcastle no place for decent men like Kerr or Beardsley

James Lawton

James Lawton

With the failure to sign Steve Clarke - one of the more high-profile sidekicks in football management after his years as Jose Mourinho's ramrod at Stamford Bridge and a stint with Gianfranco Zola at West Ham - Newcastle have, in their inimitable way, managed to fashion controversy out of an administrative detail.

It is, to be fair, a fairly important one: who covers manager Chris Hughton's back as he seeks to build on a brilliant first phase of his challenge to carry the club away from so many years of dysfunction?

Hughton, it appears, wants his former ally Brian Kerr, currently in charge of the Faroe Islands. The club preference is said to be Peter Beardsley, who is reserve-team coach but also an iconic figure on Tyneside after his years of brilliant, devoted service to Newcastle and England.

It is an intriguing choice facing Hughton and his employers.

In some ways both men are somewhat detached from the ruling culture of big-time modern football. Kerr's experience, at least on the face of it, does not make him an ideal negotiator of some of the wilder tides that beat against today's life in the professional fast lane.

As Ireland's manager he had only passing contact with some of the turbulence of day-by-day Premier League football. He worked impressively with youngsters on behalf of the national team system -- but at club level he can look back only on the relatively low pressure of the League of Ireland.


Nor are the Faroes maybe a natural stepping-stone to the challenge of dealing with such key but problematic figures as Joey Barton and Andy Carroll.

But then there is another question for Hughton, who so far has been near faultless in his handling of club affairs which in the past have driven such notable figures as Ruud Gullit, Bobby Robson, Kenny Dalglish, Graeme Souness, Joe Kinnear and Sam Allardyce to near distraction.

The question asks if Beardsley is any more equipped than Kerr to provide the kind of hard-eyed support a manager requires when dealing with some of the wilder spirits in his squad.

Beardsley's instincts do make the most natural fit with so many of the mores of modern football. When his celebrated fellow Tynesider Paul Gascoigne was appointed by the FA as an official adviser to young players on the problems that lurk beyond the touchline, Beardsley broke cover with fierce objections.

He wondered why it was that so many exemplary pros, who had spent their careers rigorously doing their best to be fit and consistent and worthy of their hire, were overlooked in such situations. Was Gazza, for all his brilliance on the field, quite the man to give an example, or even meaningful lessons, to vulnerable young players?

It was the heart-cry of a most dedicated footballer -- but did it make him the ideal operator in the new world of the game where teenagers were given financial security for life when they signed their first contracts?

There is a revealing story of the young Beardsley when he played for the Vancouver Whitecaps in the old North American Soccer League before the stardom that came to him on Merseyside and at Newcastle.

Beardsley took his wife to dinner for their anniversary. The Italian proprietor of the restaurant, an avid football fan, noted that the young couple were toasting themselves with soft drinks. He rushed over with a bottle of champagne and later shook his head when he recalled, "The most extraordinary footballer I've ever met," he declared. "He thanked me for the gesture but said it wasn't required. He said, 'Why do I need champagne, I have a beautiful wife and I play football for a living. What more could I want?'"

There is arguably no more admirable figure in the game, a professional who distinguished himself at every club he played. But does it make him, any more than Kerr, the ideal candidate to pick up the pieces when a €50,000-a-week footballer rolls up to the training ground with a thick head and maybe a new entry on the police notebook?

There might, you have to speculate, be a little problem -- of comprehension and, as a consequence, communication.

No doubt Hughton is aware of such problems after all his years at Tottenham, where he saw first-hand the desperate attempts of Terry Venables to keep Gazza on something like a straight track.

At Newcastle Hughton seeks to do this in an organisation which over the years had made even the traumas of Spurs seem like the merest squalls. For the moment the climate is good but, heaven knows, there is no more volatile place to make even a mid-term forecast. Even in the past few days we have seen that Hughton's back has been vulnerable.

Are either Beardsley or Kerr real candidates to offer at least a little security? It has probably never been harder to be optimistic in these days when mere decency has rarely seemed a less compelling credential.

Irish Independent

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