Posts Tagged ‘Modric’

Over the years, Newcastle United have been linked with everybody and anybody under the sun. Whilst a large proportion of the myriad of players linked to the Toon would probably never even consider moving to Tyneside to ply their trade, some of football’s biggest names were actually closer to adorning the famous black & white stripes than many would imagine. This article looks at some of the best players that, perhaps surprisingly, Newcastle almost, but never had…

 

Zinedine Zidane

Regarded by many as one of the world’s greatest ever players. Often grouped just behind Pele and Maradona with the likes of Cruyff and Best, the Algerian-born Frenchman etched his name into the history books by scoring two goals in the 1998 World Cup final as well as this spectacular effort in the 2002 Champions League final at Hampden Park:

Yet before Zidane had gained his reputation as one of the world’s finest, he was just a young Bordeaux midfielder when the then Newcastle manager Kevin Keegan turned down an option to sign the future 3-times winner of the FIFA World Player of the Year award in 1996. Zidane was offered to the Magpies for the paltry fee of £1.2m but was rejected as he was ‘not good enough to play in the first division (Championship)’. Zidane did go on to wear black and white stripes; however they were those of Italian giants Juventus, for whom he won 2 league titles before moving to Real Madrid for a world record £45.7m, or £55m in today’s inflation-adjusted market.

 

Dennis Bergkamp

The Iceman, as he is fondly known, is something of a cult-hero amongst football fans. Highly regarded by those that watched him play, the Arsenal legend is often, unfairly in my opinion, overlooked in debates about the ‘greatest players of all time’. The Dutch striker was a flop at Inter Milan when Arsenal came calling in 1995. A £7.5m bid ensued and he never looked back. However, things could have been so much different for the Dutch maestro had Kevin Keegan chosen to opt for him, instead of plumping for QPR’s Les Ferdinand. As it was, Ferdinand proved to be a huge success and Newcastle, like Bergkamp, never looked back. However, whilst Sir Les only lasted 2 years at Newcastle thanks to a certain Scotsman, Bergkamp saw out his career at the Gunners, delighting the fans with moments of genius like this:

Whether or not Bergkamp would have been a success at Newcastle and outlasted Dalglish on Tyneside is something we’ll never know.

 

Clarence Seedorf

Ruud Gullit didn’t do much good work in his ill-fated spell at St James’ Park but he was close to doing one thing right. The Dutch legend’s sky-high reputation in his homeland very nearly persuaded his fellow countryman Clarence Seedorf to St James’ Park in the summer of 1999. The Sunday Mirror reported on the 2nd of May ’99 that Seedorf had called Gullit to confirm that the contract offered to him by Newcastle was acceptable. A fee of £5.5m was mooted yet the deal for the much-celebrated attacking midfielder fell through – reason unknown. Whilst Gullit spent over £6m on Elena Marcelino, Seedorf moved from Madrid to Milan, playing for two years at Inter before moving to city rivals AC Milan, where he remains to this day. Newcastle meanwhile, turned their attentions to Kieron Dyer instead, depriving the Toon Army of moments of brilliance like this:

 

Rivaldo

One part of Brazil’s famous ‘Three R’s’ (Ronaldo, Rivaldo & Ronaldinho) at the 2002 World Cup, Rivaldo came to the world’s attention when, after scoring more than a goal every other game for Deportivo La Coruna, he moved to Bobby Robson’s Barcelona in 1997. He went on to score a remarkable 130 goals in his five seasons at Barca, yet despite his undoubted quality, he was released from his contract following Brazil’s victorious 2002 World Cup campaign.

Prior to the World Cup, Newcastle were rumoured to have agreed terms with the mercurial Brazilian, who was reportedly keen to work with Bobby Robson again. Newcastle had lined up a £10m bid and Freddy Shepherd looked odds on to recruit the 30-year old at one point. However, his successful world cup and free agent status attracted new suitors and he moved to AC Milan instead. He became something of a journeyman after that, playing in Greece, Uzbekistan and now, at the age of 39, he is still playing in his home city of Sao Paulo.

 

Ronaldinho

A year after the club’s failure to land Rivaldo, Newcastle tried, again in vain, to tempt his compatriot and second member of the ‘Three R’s’, Ronaldinho to Tyneside. The goofy-toothed Brazilian was Europe’s hottest property at the time and having finished in a disappointing 11th place in France’s Le Championnat with Paris Sant-Germain, he was keen on leaving France’s capital for pastures new. Newcastle, facing stiff competitions from Europe’s elite, attempted to woo him to Tyneside by offering to double his wages. The transfer bid itself was rumoured to include Laurent Robert, who had joined the Mags from PSG two years previous, plus £3m in cash.

The deal failed to materialise however, as Ronaldinho was at the centre of a three-way power struggle between Man Utd and Spanish giants Real Madrid, Barcelona. With Barcelona’s new president Joan Laporta having included David Beckham’s acquisition as part of his election maifesto, only to see ‘Golden Balls’ opt to join Madrid’s Galactico’s project instead, Laporta was under pressure to appease Los Cules and he subsequently signed Ronaldinho for a fee in the region of 30 million Euros. In the process, Ronnie disappointed the Toon Army, excited by reports of the Brazilian magician leaving a London nightclub with the Newcastle chairman’s son, Kenny Shepherd.

 

Wayne Rooney

Probably the most famous example of Newcastle attempting to, if not nearly signing one of the world’s most wanted players. Fresh with cash to burn following the surprise departure of perma-crocked Jonathan Woodgate to Real Madrid for £13.5m, Newcastle looked to respond by appeasing their fans with a big-name signing. Spearheaded by Freddy Shepherd rather than Bobby Robson, Newcastle made the first move in bidding for Everton’s rising Scouse superstar. Their initial £20m was immediately rejected and although they upped it towards the region of £25m, the wonderkid eventually moved to Old Trafford for £30m. Many a conspiracy theory (including upping the price for Man Utd) has since been put forward as to Newcastle’s reasons for bidding for Rooney when a defender was so blatantly needed instead but for me, you can’t look too far past Freddy Shepherd’s insistence upon creating his own Galactico’s Upon-Tyne project. Fast forward 12-months and Sir Bobby Robson had been relieved of his duties, Graeme Souness was in charge, Jean-Alain Boumsong was the club’s first choice centre-back and Michael O**n was paraded around after becoming the Toon’s record signing. To add insult to injury, Rooney scored this screamer plus many, many more against us in the years since his move to Manchester:

Rooney would most likely have moved on soon after joining a Newcastle side in decline but at least the club have seen a return on their investment, unlike the massive total they received from the departure of Owen: £0.

 

Luis Figo

Another FIFA World Player of the Year winner, Luis Figo was the figurehead of Portugal’s supposed ‘Golden Generation’. Having started his career at Sporting Lisbon before transferring to Barcelona in 1995, Figo appeared at St James’ Park in the Champions League in 1997, when he was part of the Barca side that lost 3-2 to a Tino Asprilla inspired Newcastle side. It wasn’t until eight years and ten trophies later though, that Newcastle registered their interest in the free agent whose Real Madrid contract expired in the summer of 2005. At 32 years of age, Figo was rumoured to be close to joining Newcastle on a one-year contract with the option of a further year.

Eventually interest from Italian giants Internazionale arose and the former Portugal-captain unsurprisingly opted to head for the San Siro rather than listen to Graeme Souness’ inspiring teamtalks. Figo played on for a further four seasons before announcing his retirement in 2009. He might not have lasted long at Newcastle on his high wages after Shepherd broke the bank to sign Owen and because of his age may have proved to be more Patrick Kluivert than Alan Shearer on Tyneside, had he joined Souness’ short lived revolution.

 

Luka Modric

Perhaps the closest any of the players on this list came to actually signing for Newcastle, Luka Modric was maybe not so well known at the time, but his performances for Tottenham since arriving in North London have been nothing short of spectacular. The diminutive Croatian playmaker has confirmed himself as one of the world’s best midfielders and is currently attracting interest from Chelsea, Man Utd and Man City following Spurs’ failure to re-qualify for the Champions League. Rewind 3 years to 2008 and it was actually Newcastle who led the queue to sign the former Dinamo Zagreb man.

Newcastle, fresh from having appointed Kevin Keegan and chief youtube-watcher Dennis Wise were supposedly looking to splash the cash on up and coming players from the continent. The likes of Andrei Arshavin and Arda Turan were linked prior to Euro 2008 but it was Newcastle’s interest in Modric that proved to be the most serious. Indeed, at one point, Modric was odds on to be wearing black and white after he was flown to Tyneside to meet the club’s officials and view the facilities. However, Tottenham also had a bid accepted and managed to persuade the little maestro that his future lay at White Hart Lane, a decision the Modric surely has no regrets about following Newcastle’s subsequent relegation in 2009.

 

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A few months ago I found myself sitting, staring at my computer screen in a state of utter disbelief. The reason for my jaw almost hitting the floor was one that has had many a Newcastle fan doing exactly the same over the years. It centred around Tyneside’s favourite Nigerian with a Geordie accent, the Fenham Eusebio, our very own Foluwashola Ameobi. Few football players divide opinion from their own fans like wor Shola – surely the definition, if ever there was one, of a love/hate relationship in a sporting sense. Yet whilst many a Geordie’s jaw has dropped over the years, inspired by the gangly-forward’s ability to both delight and frustrate in equal measure, the reason for my state of shock revolved around something written about Ameobi, rather than his consistently inconsistent on-field antics as is usually the case.

Ameobi - head in hands after missing a chance - A common sight for Toon fans

The article in question started like your average North-East football opinion-piece with the premise of the piece being to discuss the role of playmakers in the modern game, applied to the regions 3 (debatable) major teams. The argument put forward was that playmakers in the modern game are seen as a rarely afforded luxury, often overlooked in favour of players with pace, work rate and tactical rigidity. The article highlighted Andy Reid at 5under1and, and former Valencia and Barça player Gaizka Mendieta at Boro as those, slightly unorthodox midfielders that had been cast aside by Steve Bruce and Gareth Southgate respectively because of their non-conforming playing styles – and in Reid’s case his “physical limitations”.

Fair enough, I hear you say. Sounds like a decent argument. Give those playmakers more game-time, more freedom. To complete the article in non-discriminatory fashion however, an example was needed of such a player to satisfy the readers of a Black & White persuasion. Who would be a good example of an unorthodox playmaker – undoubtedly skillful yet discarded for not being “identikit” as the article’s author put it. I started to rack my brain for United’s playmakers in recent years… Beardsley? Nah, more of a forward and he was hardly cast aside. Dyer? Hmm, sold for fitness reasons rather than tactical non-conformity. I then realised that actually, in the last 15 years we’ve hardly been blessed with what I would call a true “playmaker” – a central attacking midfielder with composure on the ball and an eye for a killer pass – the Xavi’s, Modric’s and Sneijder’s of this world.

Emre is the closest Newcastle have come to having a true 'playmaker' in recent years

The best I could come up with was Emre – incredibly talented yet unfortunately injury-prone. His injuries were probably the main reason behind his departure but he was also criticised at times for his lack of defensive work – the true habit (perceived or real) of a playmaker in the English game. So Emre it was. Not a great shout but surely the journalist would refresh my memory and pick a corker. So I scroll down just as you are about to and then my jaw drops…

“SHOLA AMEOBI could sympathise. An unpredictable amalgam of fine touch, exquisite skill, clever turns, inspired passes and accomplished finishing, the Newcastle striker’s unorthodox talent does not always sit comfortably with today’s tick-box culture”

Wow, wasn’t expecting that. I check my watch for the date on one hand whilst frantically scrolling back up to the top of the page with the other. Nope, not April Fools Day. Yep, written by a certain Louise Taylor, a mackem sympathist with a penchant for less than favourable NUFC-related coverage. Things were starting to make sense. The article wasn’t anti-NUFC in any way, but my God was it inaccurate. I know it’s an opinion piece but there is a difference between opinion and downright fiction.

Now let me get this out there – I like Shola as much as the next guy. Obviously I’ve doubted and criticised the big man before, as all Toon fans have (be honest) but at the moment on the 10-year ride that has been the Sholacoaster, I have to admit he is in my good books. Despite his inconsistency and ability to infuriate, his commitment to the cause cannot be faulted with Shola having played through countless injuries in his decade serving the Mags. At present, he is the Man in the Plastic Mask, returning early from a fractured cheekbone sustained at Craven Cottage in February to more than play his part in securing the club’s Premier League status for another year. In particular though, it is his performances against the arch-rivals from down the road that have given him cult hero status, with a song to boot:

I’m a fan of Shola and I’ll admit to ‘doing the Ameobi’ on several occasions but; ‘An unpredictable amalgam of fine touch’ – Rarely. ‘Exquisite skill’ – Sometimes. ‘Clever turns’ – On a good day. ‘Inspired passes and accomplished finishing‘ – Meh, his finishing’s alright but inspired passing?! Anyone reading this without seeing Shola’s name attached could be forgiven for thinking it were an article on Zinedine Zidane, not a man affectionately known as ‘Strolla’ or ‘Bambeobi’. The article continues:

“Ameobi splits managerial opinion as he divides defences but Newcastle almost always excite when spearheaded by their Nigerian Geordie.

The first part is fairly accurate and funnily enough, the same could easily be said of Louise Taylor’s musings in the Guardian with regard to splitting opinion. Newcastle always exciting when wor Shola takes to the pitch however? I’m sure you’ll find a fan or 50,000 that aren’t excited when he produces moments like this all too often:

After the initial shock of seeing Ameobi compared to skillful midfield playmakers and described as having ‘inspired passing’, my mind cleared enough to think ‘I’ve heard this before’. A quick google search reassured me that I was not going insane. Sure enough, an article by Louise Taylor in The Guardian just over a month prior to the playmaker article described Ameobi as:

“A deep thinker and a voracious reader, Ameobi… might have followed his father into academia had an unorthodox amalgam of exquisite skill, clever turns, inspired passes and, of course, goals not led him down an alternative path.”

Interesting – the same description – almost word-for-word. Intrigued by my discovery of Louise Taylor’s admiration for anybody associated with Newcastle, let alone the much-mocked Ameobi, I hunted for more. A quick google search turned into a lengthy one, with endless articles of Ameobi admiration having been churned out by Taylor over the years:

October 2003: “Ameobi is no brat but he can, à la Chris Waddle, at times appear deceptively laconic, almost interested.”

August 2006: “Much more of this and Newcastle’s ‘Shearer’s Bar’ will soon be renamed ‘Shola’s’.”

August 2009: “With the transfer window’s closure looming, time is running out to recruit replacements. After Ameobi’s exploits, Ashley might believe none is necessary.”

August 2009: “..leaving the Geordie-Nigerian striker to chest the ball down and, in one impressively seamless movement guide it expertly just inside a post.”

March 2010: “Switching feet, the Geordie-Nigerian, spun sublimely, stealing half a yard on his markers. Having refined his shooting angle, Ameobi beat Camp with a stunning low shot which flew in off a post. His brilliant backheel then created the second..”

August 2010: “Shola Ameobi is better than many people think.”

October 2010: “..it was an assumption-challenging kind of afternoon. The same went for those who said 4-4-2 was “yesterday’s formation” or believed that Ameobi was washed-up.”

January 2011: “Coloccini as commanding in Pardew’s defence as Ameobi was imperious up front..”

March 2011: “If Arteta’s extreme skill and Ameobi’s sheer guts proved the afternoon’s overriding themes..”

April 2011: “The impressive Ameobi, all fast feet and aerial dominance…”

April 2011: “Received wisdom has Shola Ameobi down as a frustrating, inconsistent, injury‑prone bit-part player lacking Premier League quality. This reputation is inaccurate, unfair, and, above all, out-dated… the Wolves centre-halves terrorised by Ameobi will doubtless be convinced that his skilful turns, clever distribution, fancy footwork and heading ability comprise a formidable armoury... at least they do not have to face the Geordie Tevez every week.

So Louise Taylor is certainly not shy in handing out the praise and superlatives for the ‘Geordie Tevez’. In the words of Alan Oliver, she certainly ‘waxes lyrical’ about Ameobi at every opportunity and it is therefore surely no coincidence that Ameobi is often willing to grant her interviews – quotes from Shola are certainly not in short supply throughout Taylor’s articles. It seems Taylor is besotted with our cult hero and has been since 2002 – the earliest Taylor article on the Nigerian-born mackem assassin that I could find. In it appear direct quotes from the Newcastle boss at the time – the late, great Sir Bobby Robson talking about the young Ameobi:

“Shola’s got some exquisite skill, a clever turn and a great pass”

Sir Bobby Robson – 2002

Sound familiar?

I’ll leave you with some of Shola’s better moments in a Toon shirt – watch out for his unorthodox mixture of exquisite skill, aerial prowess, precision passing and clever turns!!