By Joe Behan
As World Cup players fall back into rank at their respective clubs, the transfer market goes into a final hectic shopping spree to solidify teams and squads. An already quiet year in transfer deals was overshadowed by World Cup fever. Or was it? The fact that the EPL is now dominated by a handful of clubs, does it matter who buys whom?
The title chase will be among Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester United. It’s been that way for a long time. Chelsea, Leeds and Newcastle have shown up now and then to push these top three clubs.
Newcastle’s manager, Bobby Robson, knows a prettier penny is what’s needed in the bank to compete with the top three on a consistent basis. Are the days of Brian Clough and Nottingham Forest gone?
There was a time when smaller clubs, run by football greats, could turn the tables on the big games. Robson himself proved it could be done when he won the FA Cup and UEFA Cup with Ipswich. The Town played a beautiful game that caught the imagination of the domestic league and European football. The most recent team to close the gap was Leeds United.
Chelsea just can’t quite get there with Claudio Ranieri. There seems to be a lack of belief at Stamford Bridge, while there is some serious rebuilding at Elland Road under the influence of Terry Venables. For now, the vote to upset the top three powerhouses of EPL football is Newcastle and Bobby Robson’s young army.
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The experienced Robson has now gotten back into the swing of things in the league and his side looks settled and confident. To say that there are no big names on the Newcastle roster is understandable when one compares them to the superstars at Highbury and Old Trafford.
Alan Shearer is the biggest name at Newcastle, with a potential group of stars on the rise, among them Kieron Dyer, Craig Bellamy, Andrew O’Brien and Ireland’s international goalkeeper, Shay Given. Robson’s success with Ipswich was his ability to combine young domestic talent with continental players.
The newest talent to join the youth program on Tyneside is Hugo Miquel Ferreira Viana, from Portugal, where he is regarded as the next Luis Figo. The 19-year-old is highly motivated to be playing in the premier and Champions League for Newcastle. Viana is very comfortable playmaking from the left flank adding balance and flair to Robson’s attacking system. Based on Viana’s qualities, it indicates what Robson is looking for in his players. Grace and elegance were a major part of his Ipswich team. It looks like he is shooting for the same at the Castle.
The silky skills of Nolberto Solano have not gone unnoticed, as the Peruvian has become a favorite at the Toon army. Solano is versatile and is a big part of Robson assault on the premier title.
Robson has been shrewd enough to protect his creative players with the purchase of Titus Bramble from Ipswich. Robson also bought Kieron Dyer from Portman Road. (Guess it’s true that there are no friends in the football market). The 20-year-old Bramble is a big presence who will compete for the central roll alongside Ireland’s O’Brien.
“There are some terrific players here, a tremendous manager, and I cannot wait for the new season to start,” said the excited Titus.
Bellamy adds much speed to Newcastle’s attack and Robson rewarded him the number 10 jersey for his efforts. The much fancied number by many a professional will be a big incentive for the dangerous forward after returning from keyhole surgery. The young PFA player of the year was a handful of trouble for defenses last season, and his partnership with Shearer is recognized as one of the best in the premier. Only 22, Bellamy is rearing to go for club and country and the Welshman has told Mark Hughes he will be back sooner rather than later.
As it becomes quite obvious that Robson is building a very talented young side, just to clarify his intentions, 17-year-old goalkeeper Adam Colin has moved up in the ranks. Colins will provide cover for Given and Steve Harper. It’s unusual to see such a young keeper in such a responsible position, but the youth on Tyneside believe in their father figure, Sir Bobby.
Newcastle is the team to watch for in the future, but they should do well this year, too — and that could mean a possible title.
It’s a tall order for the Magpies, to be sure, but while the young side can look up to Robson off the field, they can look to Shearer for inspiration on it. Shearer has been scoring goals right left and center for the black and whites and it’s impossible to write him off. The veteran center forward is as hungry as ever and is desperate to win a title. He knows there is a trophy drought on Tyneside and, as club captain, winning silverware has to be his main goal. He may lack a yard with a gray hair here and there, but there are plenty of young and fresh legs in the Castle.
Football-wise, one should never take an eye off Bobby Robson. In Portman Road there will be no fear of that happening as they have built a statue in his honor. But for the rest of the league and in particular the big guns, Robson should not, and is not, underestimated. His interest in Rivaldo and Ortega sends a clear-cut message to everybody that he wants to win. More important, Robson has the reputation to lure these kinds of world-class players to Tyneside. But it’s how Robson puts his talent together that will ultimately bring silverware to Newcastle, with the title being somewhat of a Holy Grail.