4.13.12

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Luke Rodgers isn’t giving up.

By Kristan Heneage

Deep in the heart of northern Europe there is an Englishman with dreams of returning to New York.

After Luke Rodgers and the Red Bulls lost to the eventual M.L.S. Cup champion Los Angeles Galaxy last year — amid talk of Christmas and New Year plans and a desire to watch his beloved Birmingham City when back home — his intentions were made clear: in 2012 he would do everything in his power to help the Red Bulls earn M.L.S. silverware.

That was nearly six months ago and a lot has changed. Now sitting in an apartment in Norway, Rodgers finds himself on the books of Lillestrom SK after his visa renewal was rejected by United States immigration. There are an abundance of questions that sadly Rodgers could not (or would not) answer, but he wants to make one thing clear; “If the chance comes about I’d love to return to New York.” It is believed that Rodgers overstayed his visa last year by several days and also failed to inform the club about a incident in England, though Rodgers, the club and U.S. officials have declined to discuss specifics.

Red Bulls General Manager Erik Soler said the club has not given up hope of getting Rodgers back, with Soler engineering his move to Lillestrom — where Solér was born and began his soccer career.

Admittedly the move is a culture shock to Rodgers, who describes Lillestrom as “nice but quiet” — it provides a dramatic change of scenery when juxtaposed with the bright lights of New York with which Rodgers had grown so fond. He is eager to reiterate, however, that the surroundings are not important, he went to Norway to work.

Making an instant impact with a goal on his debut with Lillestrom, the former Notts County and Port Vale forward remains positive.

“I need to play games right now, and it was great to do that against Rosenborg,” he said in a telephone interview from Norway. “I’d not played since November and to get a goal is an added bonus. I feel comfortable here, everyone at the club has been great helping me settle in, and I’m looking to repay that with some goals.”

It is safe to say Rodgers is not hugely invested in social media. When interviewed in June last year, he was asked if he had considered opening a Twitter account — his response? “Why? What’s the point of it?” It was hard to argue.

It was not a slight on the popular Web site as much as confusion about the concept. Allowing himself a Facebook account to keep in touch with family and friends back home, his page has few status updates but is littered with kind words from Red Bulls fans urging his return — something he describes as truly humbling.

In fact, so determined were sections of the Red Bulls supporters, they set up a Web site urging like-minded people to contact U.S. government officials.

Unaware of all this, Rodgers’s response was initially one of disbelief.

“Honestly?” he said with a sense of uncertainty. “They’ve set up a Web site for me?” After seeing his page, Rodgers was speechless (a nifty little trick) for the first time in during a 30-minute interview.

He broke the silence and said: “That’s amazing. I can’t believe that, just wow.” Clearly shocked by the support, he said that is part of the reason he wants to return, adding; “I really do love the fans, they’re some of the greatest I’ve played in front of. They make banners and it’s just amazing.” Something he has maintained throughout his time in M.L.S.

With fans claiming Rodgers arrival improved the local area, Rodgers is not so sure but appreciates the suggestion.

“Well if scoring goals improved the area then that’s great,” he said with a slightly embarrassed laugh. After a comparison to Mary Poppins was tossed his way, he laughed again. “No not quite, I didn’t fly round on an umbrella,” he said before adding: “I like meeting the fans to be honest. They’re always nice and polite. I mean what’s thirty seconds to take a photo or sign your name?”

Although he might be thousands of miles away, Rodgers is still aware of the club’s fortunes.

“It was a great performance against Columbus, we played really well.” he said. His use of the royal we suggesting part of him is still in New Jersey. And although the Red Bulls entered this weekend’s game against visiting San Jose as the league’s highest-scoring team (with Thierry Henry and Kenny Cooper combining for 13 goals), the club is one or two injuries from desperation up front in Rodgers’s absence.

Rodgers’s attention, however, quickly turns to more immediate matters — last Monday Lillestrom played against last-place Odd Grenland. A game many would have expected it to win, saw a victory for Grenland, something Rodgers was far from happy about.

“That was a frustrating game to be honest.” he said. “The only positive is I got 20 minutes, which is what I need right now. We’ll be looking to bounce back as soon as possible.”

His Red Bulls teammates often admitted to difficulty in understanding Rodgers’s heavy Birmingham accent, he apparently faced another language barrier.

“It’s not bad actually,” he said. “A lot of the guys here speak English anyway, but I’m trying to pick little bits up. I think football is one of those games that you just understand each other, actions can replace words.”

A quick test in Norwegian proved he still has some way to go, his vocabulary currently confined to greetings, not that Lillestrom fans will care. Based on an assortment of YouTube clips they appear enamored with their newest recruit, who still stretches out his arms when he finds the back of the net — another nod to his favorite M.L.S. team

“Red Bull gives you wings doesn’t it.” he said before again erupting in laughter, proving that he has not lost his chirpy spirit or hope of one day running out once more at Red Bull Arena. Only time, and the U.S. government, will tell.

3.24.12

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Drugs 0, MLS 1: “They saved my life,” says Real Salt Lake’s new star

“They didn’t just save my dream, they saved my life.” That’s how Sebastián Velásquez perceives Real Salt Lake’s decision to select him during the MLS Superdraft in January.

After a whirlwind few months, the rookie reflects upon the moment he found out he’d be making his competitive bow against league champions LA Galaxy. “I saw my name on the board [the night before] and I just started grinding my teeth,” he said. “I was really nervous. In my mind I remembered what a friend from back in Colombia had told me: it’s two goals, 22 people on the field, and three referees. Just go out there and have fun.”

To truly comprehend his journey, you must go back. Born in Colombia’s second city Medellín, Velásquez moved to the US with his mother at the age of two. Throughout his youth he went to school and played club soccer with the aim of one day playing the game professionally.

At 17, his first chance came. Offered a trial with Barcelona after impressing their former striker Steve Archibald, Velásquez began an intense training regiment in preparation for a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

“I was good friends with a guy called Anthony Solomon. He owned an artificial pitch called Carolina Indoor Soccer,” he explains. “He would let me have the keys so I could start at six or seven in the morning till late at night. When I found out about the Barcelona trial, I spent eight months working and sleeping there – it had a couch in the building. I’d do things like shooting, running with weights on my legs, at a good pace. All kinds of things.”

He describes the trial with Barcelona as an unforgettable experience, but it failed to provide a contract, as did a subsequent spell with local rivals Espanyol. Undeterred, Velásquez returned to the US to play college soccer for Spartanburg Methodist College. The school not only helped him financially, but provided him with what he describes as an excellent soccer program.

After a two-year apprenticeship, Velásquez was ready to move on. Having agreed to join Clemson University, he received a shock phone call: “They told me they had heard about my try-outs in Europe and that because of that I was ineligible – I had no idea.”

With the college route apparently blocked and his dream seemingly over, Velásquez had little idea what to do. His mother was now back home in Colombia, which at the time seemed the only option. “I visited Colombia three times [in the space of a year] to see if I could fit into the lifestyle and adjust to it.”

As Velásquez begins to elaborate, he reveals the culture shock. “In Colombia there’s not as much security as there is in this country,” he said. “There you can drink whatever age you want; you can do drugs on the corner of a soccer field.”

With his mother also living in one of the most dangerous areas, Pedregal, Velásquez provides a harrowing example of day-to-day life on a gangland frontline. “I remember when she’d call me crying and you could hear the shootings outside between the gangs. I didn’t want to go into that.

"When you’re young there, if people don’t know you they’re always going to ask ‘Who is that? Is he trying to take over our territory?’ I didn’t want to be a part of that. I want to be safe and not make bad decisions.”

It’s at this point you begin to understand why Velásquez is so grateful to Real Salt Lake. Already possessing a one-way ticket to Colombia, he made a vital final phone call. “It was the best decision I’ve ever made in my life.

"I was thinking about doing it, and I asked my college coach. He said I should, but I didn’t want to give him the news I wasn’t going to Clemson. Five minutes later, my professional life changed forever. If I hadn’t made that call there would have been no Sebastián in MLS.”

At this stage it was only a trial, and as Velásquez had already learned, that was no guarantee of being picked up. Huddled with his mother around a computer back in Colombia, Velásquez watched the Superdraft process unfold – all the time hoping and praying.

“When the first two drafts got picked, my mom got nervous. I just sat there and said ‘Don’t worry, things will work out, stay positive’. As soon as they picked me… man, I just started crying – that’s all I did, was cry.”

There’s a flicker in his voice as he recalls the moment that made this all possible. Selected at No.36, Sebastian Velásquez was now a professional soccer player. As he begins to settle into life in Utah, he hasn’t forgotten his mother. “We’re looking at that right now and her paperwork situation,” he said. “RSL is helping me with that. They’ve put me on to the immigration lawyers, so hopefully I can get her back here or help out economically.”

Proud of his Colombian roots at a club with a heavy South American influence, Velásquez has fit into the squad seamlessly, even gaining a nickname. ‘El Mofeta’ (‘The Skunk’) refers to the blonde and black hair that two teammates shaved off last week, something he takes in good spirits.

He may be living life one day at a time, but what does the future hold for Velásquez? “Someday I want to be an agent,” he declares. But he wouldn’t be a merciless money-mad merchandiser: his reasons are far more positive. “So I can go to these different spots where I know things are bad, give my hand to a kid and say ‘There’s green land on the other side of the hill; you do have an opportunity at life.” It’s a noble wish and one that you hope he is able to complete.

For the time being, however, his aim is simple – and he believes achievable under the stewardship of coach Jason Kreis. “I want to learn something new each day and become a better player. Jason Kreis is an incredible coach. He’s always there for you. I have so much respect for him that it feels like a father and son relationship.”  

3.02.12

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Eddie Johnson returns from the wilderness

Former Fulham, Cardiff and Preston striker Eddie Johnson has ended up back in MLS at Seattle. Kris Heneage fills in the blanks

Eddie Johnson may have returned home to MLS, but he’ll be keen to note the changes since his departure in January 2008. Former club Kansas City Wizards now go by the name of Sporting KC, and his new club the Seattle Sounders were still a year from their MLS debut when he joined Fulham as an exciting 23-year-old.

In the years that have passed the league has gone from strength to strength, but Johnson sadly hasn’t. His time at Fulham yielded few games and even fewer goals – under a dozen, in fact. Unable to hold down a first-team place, he was loaned by Cardiff and Preston to little effect (two goals in a combined 49 appearances), although a spell at Greek side Aris Thessaloniki yielded a more fruitful one-in-three goal return.

Released by Fulham last summer, he returned to his roots training at the IMG Soccer Academy. That’s when USA team-mate DaMarcus Beasley reached out to Johnson, offering him a chance with Mexican top-flight side Puebla.

Johnson trained with his new side ahead of the Mexican season, and after being given time off at New Year, prepared to fly back to Puebla from Florida. But at the airport he received a call from Beasley, claiming he’d read local reports that the deal was off.

Puebla cited a failed medical, but Johnson tells a different story. “The club said I didn’t pass my physical. I never took a physical,” he said. “Then they said that I was unfit, but I trained in every session and I did well, and the coach was happy with the way I trained. All the guys in the locker room were excited for me to join, but it was out of my control with the guys in front office.”

Instead he claims there was a difference of opinion between the club’s technical director and coach Juan Osorio, formerly of the Chicago Fire and New York Red Bulls. Osorio wanted Johnson, but his technical director preferred to sign a Mexican forward; with neither side willing to relent, the deal was cancelled.

With the clarity of hindsight, Johnson laments the fact that he didn’t have an agent, something he has since rectified by hiring Lyle Yorks. “I’m happy right now and it’s a better situation,” he says. “Lyle has a great reputation in Europe and he thought Europe would have been great for me, but I couldn’t keep sitting out. I know this league and I just want to come back and play. I want to let my football do the talking for me.”

Subject to the league’s allocation process, Johnson was originally signed by the Montreal Impact, the newly-admitted Canadian club. They promptly decided to trade him to Seattle in return for Lamar Neagle and Mike Fucito. Some say it’s a risky move for Seattle, but Johnson sees it as a great display of faith from the Sounders and coach Sigi Schmid.

“I couldn’t be in a better environment,” he said. “The coach believes in me and he thinks I’ll make a great fit in the team. I had the chance to train with Mike and Lamar and I think they’ll do great in Montreal.”

With Johnson knowing little of the Seattle area other than its heavy rainfall, he relied on former Aris teammate Freddy Adu to fill him in on what to expect. “Freddy and I are really good friends,” explains Johnson. “When I heard Seattle were offering a lot to get me, I was like: ‘I’ve never really been to Seattle… I heard it rains a lot up there.’

"The first thing he said was ‘Man, Seattle has the best fan support, you’re going to love it.’ I watched some highlights on MLS.com and I saw how electric the atmosphere is; he said ‘Trust me, you’re going to love it.’”

Now 27, Johnson admits that with the help of Sigi Schmid he also hopes to catch the eye of Jürgen Klinsmann and add to the 42 caps he already has for the national team. “I couldn’t be in a better environment for that. If I’m playing well enough to get into the US men’s national team, I think Sigi has a good relationship with him [Klinsmann]. I know If I’m doing it week in week out, Sigi will give him a call.”

His season with Seattle is likely to begin with a CONCACAF Champions League tie against Santos next week, and Johnson can’t wait to start making up for lost time. “The CONCACAF Champions League will be good. Right now we’re focused on our quarter-final game and I’m looking for that first goal in a Seattle Sounders jersey.”

As for his aspirations this season, Johnson is keeping those to himself, but there’s an air of determination and confidence in his voice. “As a player you always set goals. Right now I’m going to keep those goals to myself, but I’d like to go back and see what ones I did accomplish and what I didn’t accomplish.”

Earning an estimated $100,000 this season, Johnson could very easily become an astute signing for the Sounders should he recapture his early career form. As the team needs a viable partner for Fredy Montero, Johnson will seek to quickly establish an understanding with the Colombian if Seattle are to once again make the play-offs in a difficult Western Conference.

Right now though, Johnson is simply asking for a healthy season. “It’s a long season we have a lot of games with the CONCACAF Champions League, the big question is can our team stay healthy throughout the year. If we stay healthy we’ve got a strong chance.” 

12.23.11

http://fourfourtwo.com/news/england/92840/default.aspx

Professional Footballers’ Association Chairman Clarke Carlisle has stressed that it is vital all union members understand what language is considered acceptable in England.

Liverpool striker Luis Suarez was banned for eight matches on Wednesday for racially abusing Manchester United defender Patrice Evra during a Premier League match at Anfield in October.

Carlisle, currently on loan at Preston North End, told FourFourTwo.com: “We already educate the scholars and apprentices. This instance with Suarez has highlighted that we can’t just assume because a mature man is coming into the game, that he is aware of the levels and precedents that are set in our game.”

The former QPR and Leeds player also believes it is up to clubs to educate their foreign players.

"It is for clubs to take up that responsibility. So that when players come into our game, they fully understand what is expected of them in any given situation."

Having been handed an eight-game suspension by the Football Association, Carlisle feels that the Uruguayan’s sentence should not be increased if his appeal is unsuccessful.

"People have said it would be laughable to increase the ban, and I concur. The whole reason that was put in place was to stop frivolous appeals over red cards," he said.

Suarez, who joined Liverpool from Ajax in January,  also recieved a £40,000 fine, something Carlisle considers to be the least most effective form of discipline.

"The financial implications are wholly immaterial. The way to hurt a footballer is to take away the love of his life, which is to play football. I think the eight game ban is more than sufficient."

Liverpool’s game at Wigan on Wednesday night saw both Kenny Dalglish and his players take to the pitch with T-shirts supporting Suarez.

Carlisle believes that it is wrong to blame the club, adding: “I don’t want to cast aspersions on Liverpool, they are showing the kind of solidarity that has kept this game alive.

"What I would say is, that it’s vitally important that we get the message out that you can’t just say what you want when involved in altercations. We need to nullify all kinds of abuse."

By Kris Heneage

12.23.11

http://www.guardian.co.uk/football/2011/dec/23/dwayne-de-rosario-dc-united-vegan?CMP=twt_gu

In football as with life we so often speculate on what might have been. Despite being named MLS MVP for 2011 and recording a successful season with D.C. United, Dwayne De Rosario still holds a contemplation of his own - what if I’d stayed in Milan?

"I don’t call it a regret, I don’t like to use that word." He says as he begins to explain the circumstances that surrounded his decision. Aged 14 Canadian De Rosario was offered a five year contract with Milan (a club of which he still considers himself a supporter) but decided against it after spending time in the red half of the Italian city.

"I guess you could say I was a street kid." He said, laughing as he reminisces about his younger self. "I was 14 and a five year contract seemed like my whole life. It wasn’t until I flew back and I realised what happens when you waste it, because hanging out in the streets and getting into trouble is not the solution."

Instead of venturing to Europe De Rosario began his career with local side Malvern Majors, a time of which he is clearly fond: “We had a very young and talented team. The majority of players in that team could of gone pro but circumstances unfortunately meant they didn’t and everybody parted their ways.” Not wanting to forget his roots he cites his celebration the ‘shake an bake’, as a tribute to those who were unable to play the sport professionally, “It’s one we’ve been doing since we were kids.”

A young De Rosario may have lacked the professional hunger, but now 33 his desire is stronger than ever after an interesting 2011. When asked to describe his season his response is simple: “Ups and downs definitely.” An apt evaluation considering De Rosario is the first MVP to play for three teams in a season and still win the award. A testament to his resilience.

Few could have predicted such a drastic upturn in form when he departed New York Red Bulls after only thirteen games (Having briefly started the season at Toronto FC). Far from happy with the way things transpired, De Rosario recalls the moment he was told his time with the New Jersey-based club would be coming to an end. “On the Monday afternoon after training they called me,” he said. “I was going to my daughter’s graduation in Toronto the day after and they called me in and basically said, “We just did a trade.” And I was like, “I was in the office, you could of simply just pulled me in then.”

De Rosario had only recently completed a down payment on a house. Did he feel disrespected? “Yeah 100%. Like I said it’s not the fact I’d just came there. I don’t think anyone should be treated this way, but especially a guy having been in the league for this long and having accomplished what I’ve accomplished. Sometimes when you treat a player like that it doesn’t go well.”

Departing for the nation’s capital, De Rosario would return to New York only days later - this time as a D.C. United player. With a point to prove the script was written, and De Rosario performed. A clever dummy that saw him lose Dax McCarty (ironically the player New York acquired in the trade) was followed by a pin point shot in off the post. A rendition of the ‘shake an bake’ was now met with an intensity in his eyes. Ben Olsen had not acquired an aging veteran looking to bow out, but a player with a point to prove and four months to do it.

New York would not be the only former team De Rosario would haunt this season. A hat-trick against Toronto FC at RFK stadium, left him with a somewhat bittersweet taste. “There was a lot of emotions there. Obviously Toronto is my hometown and it’s a city I’m very very passionate about. To experience what I experienced there was difficult. I still gave 100% every training session and on the field, despite what was going on off the field. To have to play them, it was a weird feeling.”

As you might expect De Rosario speaks highly of his current manager Ben Olsen. There’s a level of respect between player and manager, that was forged during years spent playing on opposing sides, both in MLS and at youth international level. “I’ve always had a great respect for Ben’s game in terms of his tenacity, he doesn’t give up and he always works hard.” He said, “That attitude can take you a lot of places. I’m even more impressed at the way he’s made the transition from being a player last year to now being a coach.”

When asked if it’s a transition he can envisage himself making, De Rosario’s response is non committal: for now his focus is on his playing career. Much like D.C. United, De Rosario values youth and the potential to develop the next generation. But he also speaks of his enjoyment at devising tactical strategies. As he continues to talk ‘maybe’ begins to sound more like ‘yes’.

The off season has seen much discussion on whether De Rosario can maintain such form. Unwilling to set himself specific targets for the season, he takes lessons from D.C. legend Jaime Moreno and a certain Manchester United midfielder. “After every season you should look at yourself and really evaluate the things that you’ve done well and the things they need to improve on,” he said. “You look at a guy like [Ryan] Giggs he thinks a lot quicker than his opponent and he frees up his own space. I admire players like that they really play with their brian.”

Now in his fourteenth season as a professional, what role does De Rosario believe his vegan diet has played in his longevity? “I think it helps me a lot in terms of staying on top of my personal growth as a player and an individual to see what I eat and what I put into my body. I think it really helps me stay on top of my game for the full 90 minutes.”

De Rosario sounds comfortable and accepts that, while it may have taken time, he has eventually found the right team for him. As for next season his goals are simple as he explains; “The main thing for me is collectively as a team being successful, so whatever we have to do to make that happen I’m willing to do, and right now it’s putting the ball in the net. I’m going to try my best to continue to do that.”

11.22.11

http://soccernet.espn.go.com/feature/_/id/981447/newcastle-united-scout-graham-carr-shows-value-of-being-prepared?cc=5739

By Kristan Heneage 

Three months into the new season and Newcastle United are already leading the race to become this season’s surprise package. A series of impressive results, built on a stern backline, sees them currently sitting in the Champions League positions. Of course, as is well documented, Newcastle’s recent history has not always been so calm and stable.

Following Mike Ashley’s takeover at St James’ Park, Dennis Wise was appointed the club’s director of football in January 2008. Leaving under a cloud just over a year later, he shouldered much of the blame for the club’s shortcomings.

The acquisition of Ignacio Gonzalez, who arrived after Wise had been impressed by aYouTube video showcasing his talents, saw the former Chelsea captain come under heavy criticism from Magpies fans. His first actual signing, Fabio Zamblera, recently departed the club via mutual termination having failed to ever even make the substitutes’ bench.

Then there was Xisco. The Spaniard’s arrival at the club, reportedly without the consent of then-manager Kevin Keegan, was seen as a decisive factor in the abrupt departure of the Magpies’ ‘messiah’ in 2008. Three years later, Xisco remains on the Newcastle books but has played just nine league games and is currently out on loan at Deportivo La Coruna.

When Wise left Newcastle in 2009, he rightly reflected that his experience in the North East “had a damaging effect” on his career, leaving one to question who would possibly want to step into the breach as his successor.

Step forward Graham Carr. Born in Corbridge, Northumberland, Carr boasts an impressive résumé of previous employers, having worked at Manchester City under Sven Goran Eriksson after a spell as chief scout for Tottenham Hotspur. Arriving in February 2010, he is the man tasked with finding Newcastle quality players that also reflect good value for money. Gone is the aggrandising title of director of football: Carr holds the more traditional position of head scout.

One of the players he identified was Yohan Cabaye. Having just won a league and cup double in France, many in Cabaye’s homeland questioned why he chose to depart Lille in June to join a side that had finished in 12th place in the English top flight. The substantial rise in wages will have undoubtedly played a part, but Cabaye has also explained that he was sold on the project and style of football Alan Pardew wants to play.

The early signs from Cabaye have been more than promising - he is a tough tackler whose range of passing far outstrips that of Kevin Nolan, the man he replaced. With his transfer fee rumoured to be between €5-6 million, he certainly appears value for money.

His move to English football and in particular Newcastle was no accident, however. Carefully monitored and comprehensively scouted, Newcastle were made aware of a contractual stipulation that allowed Cabaye to depart for such a modest fee when he entered the final year of his deal with Lille. No doubt on the advice of Carr, Newcastle moved quickly to secure their new playmaker, surprising many in the process.

Yet this was not the first time Newcastle had made such a considered, and successful, move. Last season saw the emergence of previously little known Cheik Tiote, who rather naively drew comparisons to another African midfielder, Michael Essien. Scouted by Newcastle during his time at both FC Twente and Anderlecht, Tiote was a long-admired target, securing his move to Newcastle on the back of a glowing report from former Twente manager Steve McClaren.

In recent times, Newcastle had become a resting place for overpaid stars still dining out on former accomplishments, something owner Ashley has shown a determination to change. Ashley, often considered a parsimonious businessman, clearly believes the previous strategy is neither financially viable nor beneficial to performances on the pitch.

With so many players to look at, Carr owns a well-stamped passport. The love for his role at the club is clear to see and, in a recent interview with a local newspaper, he discussed Newcastle’s approach to monitoring players. “We are looking at a lot of players,” Carr told the Sunday Sun. “We have teams of players that we’re looking at lined up in 4-4-2 formations because we want to have someone in every position.”

Speaking back in March, one of Carr’s comments relating to the type of player he was then searching for shows a direct correlation with the new tactical approach Pardew is attempting to enforce. “We want players with a bit of pace who can get about the park,” Carr said. “And they have to be the right age and they have to come within the wage structure as well.”

The likes of Gabriel Obertan, compatriot Sylvain Marveaux and Italian Davide Santon all represent the aforementioned pace and movement that the club so desires. While a passion for the job is an admirable quality, it is Carr’s contact book that also makes him a very desirable asset for the scouting network at Newcastle.

Of course, Carr’s role involves more than just the immediate - his eye is also firmly cast on the future of the club. That forethought is typified in the club’s acquisition of Mehdi Abeid. Sharing parallels with Cabaye, a contractual situation at Lens allowed him to depart for minimal compensation. What’s more surprising is that a mere two months later, two of Abeid’s former team-mates were also on Tyneside trying to impress. Darnel Situ (now at Swansea) and William Remy were invited on trial, and impressed during a reserve outing against Middlesbrough.

With Newcastle’s transfer strategy seeming so reminiscent of the rules outlined by Lyon chairman Jean Michele-Aulas in Soccernomics, Carr even seeks the advice of locals when scouting a player. Barmen, taxi drivers and waiters all become scouts for a day - most likely without even realising - while the club will regularly read foreign media such as L’Equipe to further improve their mountains of information about targets. Transfers are planned, players are told where they will play and what is expected long before they pose at the training ground with a black-and-white shirt.

It seems obvious to suggest that Carr’s strength is French football. A physical competition, Ligue 1 is often seen as a smoother transition for those coming to the Premier League. Considering many of Mike Ashley’s decisions have been lamented, including a perceived failure to replace departed No. 9 Andy Carroll, it would seem that Carr’s appointment has laid the foundations for a bright future on Tyneside.

8.10.11

http://equaliserfootball.com/2011/08/09/1990s-keegans-entertainers/

by Kristan Heneage

“When they’ve worked all week, the match for them is like the people down South going to the theatre, they’re going to be entertained.” - Kevin Keegan January 2008.

You could always guarantee entertainment at St James’ Park under Kevin Keegan. The goals may not have always been at the away team’s end, but it made for an engaging afternoon nonetheless. The drama, the joy, the heartache; it was all condensed into ninety minutes every week, and it made Newcastle one of the most appealing aspects of English football in the 1990’s. 

Standing on the steps of St James’ Park in January 1995, Keegan told the fans why he’d just sold their top scorer to Manchester United for £7 million plus Keith Gillespie. Newcastle had surprised everyone by finishing third the previous season, with Andy Cole – who was signed for just over a million pounds from Bristol City – a major part of that success. However forty-goal Andy Cole was gone and the team needed to move on.

The July of 1995 saw the expected new faces join the club. Les Ferdinand would be Cole’s replacement, and a more than adequate one at that. Having gained Keith Gillespie in the deal that saw Cole move to Old Trafford, Keegan brought in the mercurial Frenchman David Ginola to balance the side and add Gallic flair to the left wing.

His third purchase of the summer saw Warren Barton join from Wimbledon, making him England’s most expensive defender in the process. With Shaka Hislop also moving from Reading, the club’s Chairman Sir John Hall had opened his cheque book for the enthusiastic Keegan and now was the time to push on.

By Christmas 1995 the gamble looked to be paying off. With Peter Beardsley still jinking past defenders well into his thirties and playing off the target man Ferdinand, Newcastle were ten points ahead of their nearest rivals. Despite playing an attractive and dynamic brand of football – long before Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal drew similar plaudits – Newcastle still lacked the defensive toughness that Wenger’s ‘Invincibles’ would come to possess.

Rightly or wrongly, the infamous twelve point lead The Magpies built up in January is one of the lasting legacies of Keegan’s time at Newcastle. As Manchester United began to gain momentum, Newcastle’s players began to lose it. Defeats away to West Ham United and at home to Sir Alex Ferguson’s men cut the lead dramatically.

February had seen the arrival of Columbian forward Faustino Asprilla for £6.7m. Arriving amidst blizzard-like conditions in the North East, the rubber-legged striker was  unpredictable and exciting, the epitome of Keegan’s tactical mantra. ‘Tino’, who often delighted with his quick feet, is fondly remembered by most on Tyneside despite some attributing his arrival to the downturn in form post-Christmas – something his teammates have vehemently denied.

With the tide turning in Manchester United’s favour, the cracks began to show. The trip to Anfield on 3rd April 1996 is cited as the day the walls finally crumbled. Despite leading with twenty minutes to go, Newcastle gave up two late goals in a game that is fondly remembered by neutrals as one of the most entertaining in the league’s history. While most teams would have sat back, Newcastle pressed for more goals and left themselves open to the counter attack. The 4-3 defeat all but handed Manchester United the title and has since become one of the defining moments in the Premier League’s history.

Just as the first half of the season had displayed the right kind of excitement for Newcastle fans, the second half bore a cascade of nerves and anguish. Keegan’s slumped, forlorn posture at Anfield as Stan Collymore hit the ninetieth minute winner clearly denoted the campaign was taking its toll on him. His passion began to spill over as he became ruled by his emotions.

Despite a narrow win for Newcastle at Elland Road, Ferguson’s ‘gamesmanship’ in the press had begun to rile Keegan. His tongue – for so long bitten into silence – wriggled loose for but a moment as he questioned the ethics of his rival live on Sky, finishing his passion-fuelled rant with the infamous line; “I would love it, LOVE IT if we beat them.”

Sadly for him they never did, Manchester United taking the league title as Newcastle’s campaign fizzled out with a home draw against Spurs. The party was over and Andy Cole was celebrating with his new friends. There was a bitter taste on Tyneside, but they had come so far in such a short time; the positives were still there. Keegan, however, wasn’t done yet, and what he had planned next, few could have predicted.

He might have been “Just a sheet metal worker’s son” but Alan Shearer was also one of England’s most exciting striking talents. Costing £15m, he was unveiled like a Roman Emperor to twenty thousand delirious fans in July 1996.

Keegan’s puzzle was now complete. His strikers had an aerial dominance that complimented the tricky wingers he had secured in the eighteen months prior. With the cultured Philippe Albert leading the defence, and Shearer’s former Blackburn team-mate David Batty forming an industrious and combative partnership with Rob Lee in the centre of midfield, many fans felt this was their time, but it didn’t start well.

The daemons – or should I say Red Devils – of the previous year had returned to haunt them in the Charity Shield. A 4-0 drubbing did little for the squad’s confidence, with many questioning whether Newcastle could ever match Sir Alex Ferguson’s dominant side. They would receive an emphatic retort to that question two months later. On a wet Sunday in October, Newcastle welcomed Manchester United to St James’ Park “Looking for revenge” (the words of Shearer) after the embarrassment of the Charity Shield.

Newcastle gained their redress that day, running out 5-0 winners. The game was arguably the high-water mark of Keegan’s reign. Each goal was bettered by the one which followed as the ball was stroked around the pitch as if it were a snooker table. Fittingly, the climactic point of the game came from a player Keegan first scouted at USA ’94.

Receiving the ball from Rob Lee, Albert raced towards the weary Manchester United defence. As all around him cried ‘shoot’ few expected what came next, including Peter Schmeichel. Albert delicately lifted the ball over all in front of him, including the helpless Dane who could only watch as it glided over his head and into the gaping net. Delirium overtook both those in the stands as well as the commentary box, with Sky’s Martin Tyler letting out an and elongated ‘Oh yes’.

This was Keegan’s moment. From the edge of relegation in 1992 to that point it had been an emotional ride for all involved. The financial backer through it all, Sir John Hall, professed that; “Today the country had seen the English Champions.” Ironically he was right, as Manchester United would once again lift the title, but Newcastle had won the hearts of many with their attacking brand of footballing entertainment.

Keegan’s departure from Newcastle but a few months later was abrupt. With Shearer leading the scoring charts, the announcement came on January 7th that the manager had resigned. The shock and disappointment resonated around Tyneside. His reason for departing was unclear. Some believed Keegan’s unwillingness to make the sacrifices associated with the club becoming a PLC is where the friction began. Sir John Hall had intimated that the club would have to sell before it could buy. With Keegan determined to continue spending until he finally caught up with Manchester United, in retrospect a split seemed inevitable.

It didn’t seem fitting for a man who had made such an extravagant entrance to exit to so meekly. His style of football had caught many Premier League sides unaware, and has earned him a place in the hearts of numerous Newcastle fans to this day. It’s a shame both Keegan and his side may be more remembered for their faltering title challenges instead of the meteoric rise that came before it, but if one thing can be guaranteed it’s that ‘Keegan’s Entertainers’ always lived up to their billing.

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