x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Hand-in-hand with Joe Kinnear, Newcastle United take a step backwards

Joe Kinnear's capacity to make Newcastle United fans cringe every time he opens his mouth is matched only by his own conviction his every utterance is correct, explains Richard Jolly.

Director of football Joe Kinnear has Newcastle United fans turning on management, not the team.
Director of football Joe Kinnear has Newcastle United fans turning on management, not the team.

Joe Kinnear was talking again at the weekend. And therein, for the unfortunate fans of Newcastle United, lies the problem. Kinnear's capacity to make them cringe every time he opens his mouth is matched only by his own conviction his every utterance is correct.

The director of football was talking about Newcastle, the club that came 16th last season, qualifying next spring for the Champions League. In one sense, his comments were not ludicrous - it is only 14 months since Newcastle finished fifth, after all - but in another, they invited ridicule simply because it involved the suggestion that Kinnear would play a part in such progress.

Such is the Kinnear effect.

A relic from the past century - albeit, to his credit, when he was actually a hugely effective manager of Wimbledon - he transports Newcastle back to an unpleasant part of their past.

In the 2008/09 season, United had four managers, Kinnear included, won only seven league games and were relegated.

They were a laughing stock, never more so than when Kinnear introduced himself with an X-rated outburst that earned him the nickname "JFK". It had nothing to do with any similarities with John Fitzgerald Kennedy, the American president, and everything to do with his habit of using obscenities.

It is easier to acquire an unwanted reputation than to lose one.

Over the subsequent seasons, it took years of largely excellent decision-making for Newcastle to stop being seen as a dysfunctional club.

Disappointing as results last season were, it is notable how many judgment calls United got right between 2009 and 2013 (and worth bearing in mind that no one gets every decision right): the appointments of first Chris Hughton and then Alan Pardew as manager, the £35 million (Dh195.6m) sale of Andy Carroll and the Francophile transfer policy implemented by Graham Carr, the chief scout.

In Yohan Cabaye, Hatem Ben Arfa, Cheik Tiote, Demba Ba and Papiss Cisse, they found bargains aplenty.

Briefly, Newcastle became the role model for the Premier League's upwardly mobile.

Their players' names were on everyone's lips.

Including Kinnear's. The June radio interview where he referred to "Yohan Kebab" and "Ben Afree" is already infamous. It revived memories of the occasion, in his first spell at St James's Park, when he alienated Charles N'Zogbia by pronouncing his surname "Insomnia".

Yet, while it meant his initial interaction with players involved apologising to them, the most telling thing Kinnear said was when he boasted of his stellar contacts in the game.

"I've spent my whole life talking to Sir Alex Ferguson, week in, week out," he claimed. The former Manchester United manager is yet to confirm that but Kinnear did target one who Ferguson attempted to lure to Old Trafford: Mick Harford, whom he wanted to spearhead their title bid in 1992.

Rather than becoming Kinnear's second in command, the fearsome Harford, a man who, perhaps unfairly, symbolises English football at its most insular, the long-ball, aggressive nadir of the 1980s, turned down Newcastle for Millwall, expected to be among the strugglers in the Championship.

And so Kinnear, who defined his job as assembling the squad to take Newcastle into the Uefa Champions League, is yet to make a signing.

Yesterday's man is struggling to put tomorrow's team together, and Pardew's quest to bring in one striker, let alone the two he wants, he has been prolonged and frustrating.

The one prolific forward he does have, Cisse - or "Sissee", as Kinnear called him - refused to wear the club shirt after it was adorned with the sponsor of the legalised loan sharks Wonga - another sign Newcastle's compass has gone haywire - before backing down.

But he has missed much of Newcastle's pre-season programme and, understandably, they have looked toothless.

Such attacks as there have been have come from the fans, targeting Kinnear with their taunts.

He is sufficiently thick-skinned to cope but it was notable that in Saturday's 1-0 win over Blackpool, a banner read: "Support the team, not the regime."

Now, the owner Mike Ashley finds himself unpopular again with the return of the blast from the past, Kinnear, a shortcut back to the days of disharmony and acrimonious underachievement.

Newcastle, old problems.

 

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