Newcastle United fans have had to endure an awful lot in recent years. Indeed, while they have their most popular manager since Sir Bobby Robson at the helm, the constant problems behind the scenes are causing any sort of enthusiasm to seep out of an increasingly decrepit St. James’ Park.
Clearly, that’s down to Mike Ashley, for the most part. The Sports Direct mogul, perhaps the most hated figure in the club’s history, has seen his penny-pinching ways for the last decade questioned by Rafa Benitez and the club is crying out for a takeover as soon as possible.
Still, and this is no defence of the terrible Ashley, the fun started leaking out of Newcastle United years ago. Starting with one man’s exit during the Graeme Souness era.
A moment in time: Laurent Robert’s Newcastle United exit
By the time Souness arrived at Newcastle, it had been almost a decade since Kevin Keegan’s infamous ‘Entertainers’ team had taken English football by storm, despite not winning the Premier League. That, while a long time in football, still meant that kind of feeling somewhat remained at the club, who had been fairly regular participants in the Champions League in the years prior to his arrival.
While Newcastle’s side wasn’t nearly as good as Keegan’s, the kind of principles remained. Alan Shearer, Nolberto Solano, Gary Speed and Shay Given were all still big players on Tyneside, keeping both the Entertainers period and the Sir Bobby Robson era fresh in people’s minds.
Slowly, Souness killed that. A huge name in British football, the Scotsman was a footballing dinosaur when he was appointed and didn’t get on all too well with another who helped symbolise the last exciting Newcastle era – Laurent Robert.
The Frenchman, while painfully frustrating, was a wonderful player. Brought to England in 2001 from Paris Saint-Germain, the winger took to life on these shores well, which is all the more impressive considering the fact that others boasting his kind of technical ability couldn’t deal with the physicality at the time.
He was physical, determined (when he wanted to be) and talented, giving the Magpies perhaps the best natural playmaker they’d had since fellow Frenchman David Ginola left for Tottenham four years earlier. Now, Robert doesn’t have the same standing as Ginola due to the standing of the club during their respective Tyneside careers, though actually boasted a much better goals and assists record.
Yes, he was equally as likely to be sent off, as to bang one in from 30 yards, but that somewhat summed the Toon Army up at the time. Raw emotion with a sprinkling of stardust.
There were stunning winners against the likes of Liverpool and Arsenal, big shifts in European competition and the kind of free-kicks to make an expectant crowd such as St. James’ leap up in joy.
However, Souness’ arrival helped kill that.
The two never truly saw eye to eye and Robert was allowed to join Portsmouth in 2005 after a public spat, with the Magpies losing a true entertainer. Hatem Ben Arfa would threaten to replace him some years later and, during the 2011-12 campaign, looked destined to surpass his countryman, though even he fell out with a more conservative manager in Alan Pardew.
It’s not fun supporting Newcastle right now and, while there are much bigger problems afoot, Robert’s exit was a sign of things changing.