Our contribution to the Sunday Sun... first appeared on Sun 10.06.01
Question: Do Newcastle need to strengthen their strike force?
After a season in which Carl Cort managed to end up as joint top scorer despite missing 21 league games, and Alan Shearer finished one behind after not having scored in 2001, it's fair to say there's something amiss up front.
As Robson has intimated, the acquisition of a forward player is a priority before next season. The fact he's openly said this at least means the manager is taking a realistic view of his current options. Regardless of whether Shearer returns to full fitness or not, the evidence of recent seasons is that his powers are declining, and you'd get pretty long odds on him being an ever-present next season.
Carl Cort's respectable return of six league goals from thirteen appearances gives rise to a certain amount of optimism, but the innocuous knock he took at Exeter seems to show that he's still somewhat fragile and injury-prone. Again, to expect a full season of gruelling games against the Premierships' best might be unrealistic.
Now that Gallacher has gracefully bowed out, aside from the two big money forwards, we're left with the youngsters from the juniors and reserves. Shola Ameobi was a useful member of the first team squad to have last year, and will no doubt continue to improve as he gains experience. However, the Academy coaches who brought him through would admit that he's not the sort of player to bag large numbers of goals. His occasional reserve partner Jamie Coppinger seems to have come to something of a brick wall in his development, and since his brief Premiership appearance against Chelsea early in the season hasn't pulled up any trees in the second string. His next taste of league action seems more likely to be with a Nationwide club, possibly on loan.
Turning to those waiting in the wings for a call-up, Pablo Bonvin showed some good touches in the reserves, but isn't a natural centre forward. To throw him in to the first team at this stage would be a colossal gamble. Likewise young Scots forward Colin McMenamin is very much raw material, and regular reserve watchers remain to be convinced of his prowess at that level.
Finally, the much-vaunted Michael Chopra, and free-scoring sidekick Richard Offiong have enjoyed good seasons for the U17 side, even though they didn't end up with any winner's medals. They will hopefully maintain their progress in the U19 league next year and presumably be knocking on the door of the reserve side. Great prospects, but very much ones for the future.
So, we've got two Premiership strikers with the shadow of injury hanging over them, and a number of young pretenders. Definitely cheque book time. If you put Shearer into the now-vacated Gallacher role of tireless worker, then there is a vacancy for someone to play alongside Cort.
There's been a lot of hot air from various sources including club directors about challenging the so-called big clubs. A look at Liverpool (Owen, Fowler, Litmanen, Heskey) or Manchester United (Cole, Yorke, Solksjaer, Van Nistelrooy) shows that the winners of silverware realise the necessity of experienced striking cover, and talent.
Keeping a stable of thoroughbred attackers happy when they all can't play is one problem Bobby Robson would love to have....
If no recruitment is forthcoming, we risk repeating the mistakes of previous years. Bobby may have been elsewhere, but toon supporters won't have forgotten the games in the Champions League when Robert Lee was our centre forward, or Keegan's head-in-the-sand tactics of playing Paul Kitson as a target man when Cole departed.
Who to buy? The unanswerable question. In the last 15 years we've tried Scandinavians, Scots, Colombians, Brazilians, Croats and various other exotic combinations, but the most prolific and entertaining strikers have been recruited from other English clubs. The days when Newcastle fans were excited by talk of mysterious foreigners arriving ended with Cordone.....
The search for a new Ferdinand is occupying most of the managers in the League, while there remains the suspicion that the old Andy Cole could be yet be prised away from Old Trafford. Talk of Fowler is grandiose and unrealistic, while everyone on Tyneside has their own exclusive on Michael Bridges. Someone comparatively mundane like Lee Hughes could yet fit the bill....