Posts Tagged ‘allardyce’

The manner of Dalglish’s sacking at the hands of FSG will seem very familiar for Newcastle United fans.

The owners of a well-supported club installed their final manager before selling up and moving on, much to the delight of the club’s vast fanbase. The club’s new owners are wealthy benefactors who promise a return to the glory days and instantly back the manager they inherited, only to relieve him of his duties after just 6 months in charge. The manager wasn’t popular with the fans and the new owners knew as much.

Now the owners – wanting to win over the club’s fans – decide to bring back the club legend in a move hailed as ‘The return of the King’. Said legend served the club with distinction as a player and later as manager, yet he’s been out of the game for years. Some question his credentials in today’s modern game. The fans claim he understands the club like no one else. The good times are set to return…

Well… that’s what was supposed to happen anyway. In reality the club legend briefly restored the fans’ passion and pride in the team before being unceremoniously dumped, much to the outrage of the faithful.

The club I’m referring to? Well, it has to be Liverpool, surely, and FSG’s hiring and firing of ‘King’ Kenny Dalglish. You’re only half right. For those departing, unwanted owners, instead of Hicks & Gilett, read Shepherd & Hall. For Hodgson’s disastrous 6-month tenure, read Sam Allardyce. The new owners universally welcomed with open arms? For FSG at Liverpool read Mike Ashley at Newcastle. As for that club legend, well, for King Kenny, read instead King Kev – former Newcastle manager Kevin Keegan.

For a while now I’ve been following FSG’s tenure at Liverpool with much interest, mainly because I felt like I’d seen it all before. As it turns out, in a way, I have. As a Newcastle fan I watched Mike Ashley arrive to a hero’s welcome before he gained even more fan popularity by dumping the unwanted Sam Allardyce before he could even negotiate the 3rd Round of the FA Cup in 2007/08. Allardyce, after half a season in charge, was axed on the 9th of January.  Almost 3 years to the day later, Roy Hodgson departed Liverpool in similar circumstances.

In stepped Messrs Keegan and Dalglish, both of whom saved their respective clubs’ seasons from disaster by the end of the campaign in May. Both were also given Directors of Football to work with, put in charge of player transfers & scouting. In hindsight, perhaps the appointments of Dennis Wise and Damien Comolli showed an inherent lack of trust from the two clubs’ owners in their newly appointed managers to spend their money, especially at Newcastle.

Eight months after returning to Newcastle, Keegan was gone, with the club subsequently admitting in court that they had undermined their manager and lied to the fans. It turned out Mike Ashley wanted to run the club on a budget, whilst Keegan wanted to continue Freddy Shepherd’s policy of paying top dollar for ageing stars past their peak.

Needless to say, despite the blip – or blessing in disguise – of relegation in 2009, Ashley got his way and the rewards are there for all to see.

The only difference, it seems, between the start of Mike Ashley’s Newcastle tenure and that of his American counterparts at Liverpool, is that Ashley was ruthless enough to realise his blunder of appointing Keegan and to ditch him before he could spend any of his money.

The same cannot be said of FSG, who let Dalglish spend over £100m on overpriced British players who spectacularly failed to deliver last season, leading Liverpool to their worst Premier League finish since 1994.

FSG, with their history of implementing the low-budget ‘Moneyball’ scouting and transfer techniques in baseball, will be looking to use Mike Ashley’s Newcastle blueprint – minus relegation – to propel the Anfield side back into the Champions League.

For the fans, the departure of the King may not seem the right move at the moment, I know, but trust me, I’ve been there before. Perhaps it’s for the best.

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The Young Athlete

José Enrique Sánchez Díaz was born on the 23rd of January 1986 in the Spanish coastal city of Valencia. More commonly known simply as José Enrique, or affectionately as ‘The Bull’ (‘El Toro’ in his native tongue), Enrique possessed blistering pace from an early age, becoming a member of the Benimaclet running club in his early teens. At the age of 16, despite his athletic talent for sprinting, he signed a youth scholarship with home-town club Levante. He made his professional football debut for their ‘B’ team in the 2004/05 season at the age of 18. He played just 19 games, scoring one goal but it was enough to impress the watching scouts and he earned his dream move to his boyhood idols Valencia CF who snapped up El Toro from their city rivals in the summer of 2005.

Spanish Nomad

 

As is common practice in Spain, Valencia felt the raw 19 year old left back was not yet ready for their first team, so they loaned him out to Primera División counterparts Celta Vigo for the entirety of the 2005/06 season. Enrique did well, playing 18 games for Los Celestes as the newly promoted Galicians marched into Europe via a sixth-placed finish in the league. The following season, Celta Vigo faced Newcastle in the UEFA Cup, losing 2-1 to the Magpies at St James’ Park thanks to a Steven Taylor diving header at the Gallowgate end. However, it seemed that Celta Vigo’s European excursions had a negative effect on their league performances as a José Enrique-less side struggled to 18th place and relegation.

Enrique meanwhile had escaped both Celta Vigo and his parent club Los Che, as in the summer of 2006, he made the short journey up the Costa del Azahar to the small seaside town of Villarreal. On August the 5th of 2006, he played at St James’ Park for the first time, a year before his transfer to Newcastle United. As part of a Villarreal side that drew 3-3 in a friendly match mainly remembered for Nicky Butt’s incredible substitute appearance which saw him booed onto the pitch, score 2 headed goals and then applauded off at full time. The performances of Enrique or his Yellow Submarine teammates were completely overshadowed by Butt’s 20 minute cameo, credited by many as the turning point that revived the holding midfielder’s Toon career.

Enrique excelled for Villarreal, taking on the world's best players

The Black & White Bull

Although Butt stole the headlines that day, a sturdy if unincredible performance by Enrique may have impressed Newcastle officials as exactly one year to the day later, The Bull returned to St James’ Park to finalise the details of his £6.2 million transfer to the Magpies and watched from the stands as his future teammates recorded a 1-0 win over Italian side Sampdoria; a game that saw Alan Smith net his first and only goal in black & white to date. Having missed Newcastle’s entire 2007 pre-season programme, Enrique did not feature for Newcastle in the Premier League until late September, instead making his debut for the club in a 2-0 home win against Championship side Barnsley in the League Cup. However, despite promising signs from the young Spaniard when he did play, manager Sam Allardyce openly admitted that he felt Enrique was not ready to start consistently in the Premier League, instead preferring to deploy sulky French left-winger Charles N’Zogbia in the left-back role. The end of 2007 saw Enrique put in some good performances and in doing so he staked a claim for a place in Newcastle’s starting XI, with N’Zogbia pushed into midfield. However, despite some good personal performances, the team’s results were suffering under an increasingly clueless Allardyce. The turn of the year saw Newcastle record a goalless draw at Championship side Stoke City in the 3rd round of the FA Cup. The man who sanctioned the pricey deal to bring Enrique to the club was relieved of his duties soon after, as Mike Ashley looked to appoint his own man.

“Allardyce was the one who brought me to the club and gave me the chance to play in England and I’m very grateful to him for that, for taking a chance on me.”

The unwanted man

Taking the country by surprise, Ashley pulled out his trump card on the day of the FA Cup replay with Stoke. King Kev returned to the club from the wilderness, over a decade on from his acrimonious departure in 1997. The feel-good factor returned to Tyneside and was immediately transferred onto the pitch, with Newcastle demolishing Stoke 4-1 at an expectant St James’ Park in front of a watching Keegan, alongside Ashley in the director’s box. Although Keegan, after a tough start, guided Newcastle to safety and returned attractive football to Gallowgate, he failed to see eye-to-eye with the 22-year old Spaniard. Contrary to popular opinion, Keegan’s renowned man-management skills did not extend to the entirety of his playing staff:

“I didn’t really know Keegan but he seemed like a nice man. The thing was that he didn’t pick me either and I heard that he didn’t want me at the club. That didn’t come from him because he barely ever spoke to me.”

Keegan played Enrique sporadically in his short second-spell as Magpies boss. Enrique’s form suffered as a result, with indecision creeping into his game. Bad luck followed; a freak Liverpool goal at Anfield in March 2008 came as a result of an Enrique clearance that rebounded off Jermaine Pennant, over Steve Harper in the Newcastle goal and into the back of the net. That goal seemed to sum up Enrique’s performances under Keegan, as he struggled for consistency in the Premier League. During the 2008 summer break, Enrique was told he was overweight and needed to shed a few pounds. He overreacted in his weight loss however and returned to pre-season underweight and lacking the vital upper-body strength that has become a key part of his no-nonsense approach. As a result, he was dropped by Keegan for the start of the 09/10 campaign. Enrique didn’t have to wait long for his return to the team though. Keegan left under a cloud once again at the start of September.

Enrique struggled for consistency in his first two seasons in England

Lacking confidence

Under Keegan’s temporary successor Joe Kinnear, Enrique enjoyed a return to the starting lineup and struck up a promising left sided partnership with Argentinian and fellow Spanish speaker Jonas Gutierrez. Constant managerial changes throughout the season however, saw an impending relegation battle result in a mass loss of confidence that affected the entire Newcastle squad. With morale decreasing rapidly, club legend Shay Given and French sulk N’Zogbia jumped from the sinking Magpies ship in the 2009 January transfer window. On a personal note for Enrique, the sale of N’Zogbia meant he was now the clubs undoubted first choice left back. For the club however, morale reached an all-time low and even the appointment of club record goalscorer Alan Shearer as temporary manager could not save Newcastle from the drop as they recorded just two league wins since the turn of the year. Enrique occasionally showed flashes of his talent, but in a team playing with zero confidence, even the great Paulo Maldini would have struggled to make an impact from left back.As the club contemplated life in England’s second tier, many predicted a fire sale of the club’s top talent, including Enrique, thought by many to be in line for a return to Spain. Enrique though, had other ideas.

“It was a terrible day – the worst day of my football career. I want to be part of a successful Newcastle and try to take it back to where it was 10 years ago. That’s my dream.”

Enrique vowed to help Newcastle return to the top flight

Cult hero in the making

Although big names like Owen, Viduka, Beye and Duff all jumped ship in the summer of 2009, most of the players set out to right the wrong of relegation. Under the guidance of Chris Hughton, Newcastle dominated the Championship and returned to the Premier League at the first time of asking, via 102 points and the Championship trophy. Enrique played an integral part in Newcastle’s title-winning team, playing 34 league games on his way to becoming a firm fans-favourite with the Toon Army, underlined by the fact he was Newcastle’s official Player of The Season, as voted for by Newcastle fans. He also made it into The PFA Championship Team of the Season, alongside teammates Coloccini, Nolan and Carroll. The moment of crowning glory for his season came in the 2-0 win over promotion rivals Nottingham Forest at the end of March. A soggy St James’ Park witnessed Newcastle all but secure promotion after Shola Ameobi broke the deadlock before Enrique added a second – his first goal in Newcastle’s colours and second of his career – in injury time. His celebration and that of his teammates showed the spirit within the Toon camp was incredibly high and the sight of the Newcastle players piled up on top of the Spaniard at the Leazes end is one of the enduring images of the successful 2009/10 campaign.

José Enrique goal versus Nottingham Forest

Mr Consistent

The settling in period that Enrique benefited from in the Championship saw him add consistency to his game, which, allied to his physical strength and surprising pace has turned him into one of the best left backs in the Premier League. High quality performances have been forthcoming so far this season, culminating in a fantastic display at The Emirates in November, where Arsenal’s pacy right winger Theo Walcott was marked out of the game in a 1-0 win for the Mags. Considering his position has not been under threat since the departure of N’Zogbia two years ago, the lack of backup at left back is credit to both his consistency and fitness as he rarely misses games because of injury. Fans and media alike have been queuing up to offer praise for the young Spaniard with calls for a first national-team call up also emerging. Rumours of January interest from Tottenham show just how far ‘The Bull’ has come since his arrival some 3 and a half years ago. 

Enrique has firmly established himself as one of the Toon Army’s favourite players – heralded via the simple, but effective chant of “José, José, José, José!” – and although it took two years to reap the rewards, it seems that Allardyce did do something positive for Newcastle. Enrique’s current contract runs until 2012 and if he keeps on playing how he has done in the last 18 months, then the fans will be happy to see him extend it. So too, it seems, would the player himself:

“When I signed here, I signed for five years. I have two years more – this year and another one – but I am already thinking about the future and hoping that my stay is longer than that. I would like to stay for another five years if it possible. I am very happy here.”

Much of the talk surrounding Alan Pardew’s recent appointment has revolved around the importance of keeping Andy Carroll at the club. The new manager could do much worse than ensuring El Toro also remains at the club for the forseeable future.