Get Well Soon, Philippe Albert, the Belgian international and adopted Geordie ex-footballer, who was injured in a car crash yesterday, and whose 5th goal in The Black and White’s 5-0 thrashing of Manchester United in October, 1996, was the zenith of Kevin Keegan’s first reign as Manager leaving a memorable watermark of the potential of Newcastle United, football’s largest sleeping giant that Rafa Benitez is slowly awakening.
Newcastle United’s promotion back to The Premier League has – as always – made the great Geordie club the talk of the football world again, and the very pundits who fall over themselves questioning the size of the club are ironically drawing attention to how massive its true stature really is.
Craig Bellamy, in the words of his former Newcastle manager Sir Bobby Robson – “a great player wrapped round an unusual and volatile character.” – fired Newcastle into the second group stages of The Champions League against Feyenoord in 2002 as a player yet the intervening 15 years swinging golf clubs at teammates et. al. has seemingly erased the importance of this from his memory.
Before Newcastle easily dispatched his boyhood heroes Cardiff City 2-0 away last Friday, Bellamy the pundit spoke of Newcastle fans hoping that their club make a good impression on The Premier League, on BEIN Sports as ‘unrealistic’:
“Is it realistic? Of course it isn’t. They will go up not thinking about relegation or mid-table, they should be a Champions League club – they honestly believe that up there.
“Realistically they are a long way from that, they haven’t finished in the Champions League for 15 seasons.
“They are a long way from doing that.”
Yet 14 months ago it was ‘unrealistic’ Rafa Benitez, the most decorated manager in modern football, would become Magpies boss – but he is today.
For a club that is ludicrously considered anything other than ‘big’ by anybody who knows anything about football, the greatest sleeping giant in the world game awakening certainly rouses the twin dragons of negative opinion and envy.
The Magpies’ promotion party wasn’t yet 48 hours old when HMRC inspectors raided the club’s offices – you might have seen a footnote to the articles & stories that minor London clubs West Ham United & Chelsea were similarly examined yet naturally Newcastle received the brunt of the media interest and attention.
There is something about Newcastle United threatening to live up to its full potential that strikes terror into the football world – the same terror Craig Bellamy feels whenever Alan Shearer, who has threatened to knock him out when their paths next cross, feels when the ultimate no. 9 is in the same vicinity.
For some like Gary Neville and Jamie Carragher, it is the greatest professional roasting of their lives at the hands and feet of swaggering entertainers like David Ginola and Tino Asprilla, that haunts them, memories best played down or buried.
Although to be fair to ex-Liverpool stalwart and SKY Sports Pundit Carragher, he was quick to reassure Newcastle fans that his former Reds’ boss Rafa Benitez – would stay at St. James’ Park and to disregard any reports to the contrary, in the Daily Mail:
“He won’t quit. He never quits. That is something Newcastle United fans should remember as another storm starts to blow around Rafa Benitez…He wants the maximum amount of money he can get ahead of the transfer window in order to keep Newcastle competitive. If he doesn’t get the funding that he feels is necessary and next season goes badly, he can turn around & say: ‘I told you so.'”
In many ways, success – the real, trophy-winning or Top 4 Champions League-qualifying position Ashley considers success at The Magpies and said he won’t leave the club before he has achieved it – can still be vindication to the owner.
“To be categorically clear I’m not going anywhere until we win something”
was a promise Ashley made and one only Rafa Benitez can fulfil.
The appointment of Benitez was a statement in itself and the fact that Ashley has kept a very low profile – only appearing at a handful of festive fixtures at the turn of the year all away from the glare of St. James’ Park – shows perhaps he is licking his wounds after relegation and allowing Rafa to get on with the job in hand.
No doubt the glamour fixtures against Manchester United, Liverpool, Arsenal and the like and especially Spurs, who are supported by many of Ashley’s close friends and business associates, will see the owner’s return to St. James’ Park and he will not want to be humiliated which is good news for the manager seeking summer transfer funds.
Newcastle Can Make A Big Impression First Season Back
In the summer between the promotion season of 1992-3 & Newcastle’s first ever Premier League season, Magpies manger Kevin Keegan banned the word ‘consolidation’ from the club and even told inaugural Premier League title-winning manager Alex Ferguson of Man United he was “coming for his title”.
Keegan’s optimism – backed by Sir John Hall’s money in the transfer market – proved prophetic as Newcastle finished 3rd earning the nickname The Entertainers en route.
And even after relegation in 2008-09, Newcastle bounced back again at the first time of asking under Chris Hughton and after an impressive 12th placed finish under Alan Pardew in 2010, by the 2011/2 season the club were flying and finished 5th just outside The Champions League spots after signing a clutch of players like Demba Ba and Yohan Cabaye, David Santon and Papiss Cisse.
The team that Pardew built for around £35M went on to reach The Quarter Finals of The Europa League the following season 2012/3 – only Vurnon Anita was added that summer – whilst struggling in the League without more squad depth.
With the greatest respect to Alan Pardew, Rafa Benitez’s reputation in the football world precedes him and with the right backing can take Newcastle further than the ex-Crystal Palace boss whose greatest achievement in management was winning the double Premier League & LMA Manger of the Year awards with NUFC on a shoestring.
Benitez was the boss who ended Valencia’s 31-year drought without a Spanish title winning La Liga twice in his 3-year spell there plus a UEFA Cup victory between 2001 and 2004 and he has been in and around the top spots and trophies with every club he has been to so will be pushing Newcastle in the same direction.
“We are not a stepping stone, we are Newcastle United”
was the mantra that endeared Benitez so much to Geordie fans back in September so after restoring the club’s Premier League status, he will be looking to further restore Geordie pride with a more than respectable top half finish next season.
One thing is for sure, managers like Pep Guardiola, Jurgen Klopp, Jose Mourinho and Mauricio Pochettino will not be looking forward to pitting their wits against the Spanish master next season in front of 52,000 loud, proud Geordie fans roaring on ‘RafaBall’.
The best is yet to come. Don’t Stop Believin’
(The Ant and Dec Signed ‘Proud To Be A Geordie’ Plaque is being auctioned for the NUFC Fans’ FoodBank if anyone would like to make a bid for it, get in touch)
Juventus Fans Arrested After Clash with Police
Wednesday’s UEFA Champions League quarter-final clash between Juventus and Ajax has already been marred by violence and controversy, before the teams even took to the pitch.
According to Ansa, citing a report from De Telegraaf, dozens of fans were reportedly arrested in Amsterdam in the hours leading up to the game.
Italian Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini (h/t Football Italia) took to Facebook live video to state that “around 120” fans had been arrested.
Per the report from De Telegraaf, fans near the Johan Cruyff Arena were “in possession of knives, clubs, pepper spray and flares.” Also, dozens of Ajax supporters were reported to have clashed with riot police in separate incidents outside the stadium and were eventually dispersed with the use of tear gas and water cannons.
The Mirror posted the following images on their Twitter page:
Man City forward Raheem Sterling Looking to Combat Racism on the Pitch
Manchester City forward Raheem Sterling, who spoke out last month after being subjected to taunts during England’s game in Montenegro, is looking to take his fight against racism to the pitch, saying he would rather stay on the field than let racism force him to walk off of the pitch during a match.
Sterling’s manager Pep Guardiola, stated that he would support players walking off in protest if it happened again, in a strong statement that racism is simply not acceptable.
“I think everyone are entitled to their own opinions. My mum has taught me to be comfortable in my own skin and I am,” Sterling said, according to the Manchester Evening News.
“I wouldn’t personally agree with [walking off], to win the game would hurt them even more they’re only trying to get you down. If you walk off they win, to score or win would be better.
“Everyone’s different. Everyone has their own opinion, how they deal with things emotionally and you have to support everyone.”
Sterling opened up about the racism he has faced in his life, discussing when he first expereinced racism when he moved from North London up to the north-west back in 2010.
“I don’t think trying to make a difference or making a difference, it’s about speaking what you experience. Some people might shy away from it, if more players speak up that might be better.
“It’s offensive but growing up my mum always told me I’m a wonderful black child and I know this. When I hear it, it’s nothing new. I’m happy with it. I’m confident, I’m black and I’m proud. Some people can’t take it but my mum has always told me to love who I am.
“The first time I experienced racism is when I went up north to Liverpool – in London in schools and on a day-to-day basis you’re surrounded by a diverse community. Only a few occasions growing up in the academy in Liverpool, and then mainly in the last couple of years of being a professional.”
Birmingham City Fan Jailed for 14 Days for Punching Aston Villa Player
27-year old Paul Mitchel, a Birmingham City fan has been jailed for 14 days after he plead guilt to assaulting Aston Villa midfielder Jack Graelish during the derby on Sunday.
Mitchell rushed the pitch and took a swing at Graelish when the player’s back was turned at Birmingham City’s St. Andrew’s stadium during the Championship match on Sunday.
Mitchell admitted to invading the pitch and has been officially banned from attending any football match in the U.K. for up to 10 years, and was also ordered to pay £350 in total fines.
Graelish made a statement in which he described how he was “shocked and scared” by the attack.
“I cannot help but feel how lucky I was in this incident,” he said (h/t ESPN). “It could have been so much worse had the supporter had some sort of weapon.”
“He cannot explain what came over himself yesterday morning,” Mitchell’s lawyer, Vaughn Whistance, said on Monday.
“His initial foolish intention was to go onto the pitch to whip up the crowd. He is certainly remorseful today. He is a man with a partner, they have a 2-year-old together and they’re expecting their second child.”
“This weekend a line has been crossed in terms of fan behaviour,” said a spokesperson for the FA.
“On Sunday we saw two separate incidents, at Birmingham City and Arsenal, of individuals entering the field of play and assaulting players.
“Not only is it an offence to enter the pitch, which could result in a club ban and criminal charges for the individual, but it also puts the safety of the players at risk.
“This is entirely unacceptable and we strongly condemn both incidents.
“We will be working with the clubs, the leagues and the police to discuss what collectively needs to be done to protect players and officials on the pitch.
“In addition, we have written to both Birmingham City and Arsenal to seek their observations to examine the security measures they had in place.”
Birmingham City apologized to Grealish and Aston Villa and banned Mitchell for life.
“Birmingham City Football Club would like to apologise to Jack Grealish and Aston Villa Football Club for an incident in Sunday afternoon’s derby match,” a club statement said.
“We deplore the behaviour of the individual who committed this act and rest assured he will be banned from St. Andrew’s for life. The club will also support any further punishment this individual may face in the eyes of the law.
“The club will be working with the relevant authorities to investigate all the circumstances and we will be reviewing our stadium safety procedures.
“What happened has no place in football or society. Jack is a Birmingham lad and regardless of club allegiance should not have been subjected to this — there are no excuses.
“Again, we apologise to Jack and all at Aston Villa Football Club.”
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