Shearer is Robson's choice to lift gloom at Newcastle
Sir Bobby Robson has a new book and a heavy heart. It is not difficult to guess the cause of both.
In Newcastle: My Kind of Toon, Robson reflects on his 75 years as a Geordie first taken to St James' Park by his miner-father Philip in the 1940s. But the pride of decades has been replaced by "sadness" at what Robson sees today. Perhaps, Robson says, it will take another Geordie, Alan Shearer, to restore to the club a sense of itself.
"There are all sorts of words you could use to describe what's happened at Newcastle and some words have been vitriolic," Robson says. "But the one I'd use to express what I feel about the club is sadness. It's not just disappointing or outrageous or obnoxious, it's just sad how a big, magnificent club like it is, could have reached this point.
"The five years I had at Newcastle were brilliant. To have been in charge of my father's club, phew. If my dad had known that, he wouldn't have believed it. He'd have been so proud, he'd have somersaulted all the way to the games. It was bottom when I took over. It's hard to envisage how the club has gone back to where it was, and possibly worse."
Under Robson, who succeeded Ruud Gullit in 1999, Newcastle came eleventh twice before springing into the Champions League by finishing fourth and third in consecutive seasons. When Robson was dismissed in September 2004, it was after Newcastle had finished fifth.
Since then, Graeme Souness, Glenn Roeder, Sam Allardyce, Kevin Keegan and Joe Kinnear have been manager. That churn is the principal reason why Newcastle host Manchester City tonight from the relegation zone.
"There have been way too many managers in that time and some of the player acquisitions have been dreadful," Robson says. "Who's been responsible for that, I don't know. In Kevin Keegan's case, that was one of his arguments, that they were bringing in players that he didn't even know. Certain players came into the club when Kevin was there and I don't know who bought them."
Robson had thought Keegan was the answer when re-appointed in January. "I felt that lift, the emotion. On that day, the whole city was enraptured, everyone was excited and thought that the Messiah had returned; that it might take a little while, but that he'd get it right.
"Everyone thought he'd have a great relationship with Mike Ashley, that because he'd been given a three-year contract, the club would back him. It was a shock, but it felt like an inspired choice. I thought to myself 'this is it now'. But then they threw a spanner in the works by appointing Dennis Wise and he operates from London. Whether Dennis has got the skill, expertise and experience in that field is very doubtful."
Robson would welcome Keegan back when Ashley sells the club, but believes this could be Shearer's moment.
"Alan might not have any experience, but he knows what the club is all about, he knows how the supporters feel and he'd be dedicated to it. I think Alan will make a very good manager. He's got clout, he had that in the dressing room. He loved the club, he wanted everything right. The one thing he hasn't got, of course, is experience and to run a club like Newcastle, you'd need a very experienced man. Whether Kevin will come back or whether they'll give it to Alan or a combination of the two or someone else entirely, I don't know."
Kinnear, too, has experience, but Robson was unimpressed with the infamous rant at reporters. "How do headmasters or educationalists in Newcastle, reading that, explain it to their schoolchildren?" Robson asks. "I think it's more likely to encourage people to take up rugby.
"It came at a time when people have been desperate for reasons to be proud of their club. Some people might think journalists deserve what they get; my belief is it took the club down another peg or two. A manager of Newcastle speaking like that? It should never happen. It's a job of dignity, integrity and responsibility."
Robson still wants Kinnear to win tonight, though. Enduring cancer for the fifth time, Robson was told 18 months ago that it was inoperable. He has since dedicated himself to raising funds for his cancer charity. When not shouting for Newcastle, as he will again tonight at his beloved St James'.
Donations to his charity can be made at www.justgiving.com/thesirbobbyrobsonfoundation.