ENGLISH TEAMS ARE OFTEN CRITICISED FOR THE LACK OF A SOLID GAME-PLAN. There’s sometimes a dearth of continuity caused by the constant culling of managers, leading to confusion as players have to re-learn systems and tactics multiple times in any given season. As a result, having a star striker will always be a benefit for the team.
It kept Newcastle both relevant and afloat for over a decade in the Premier League, until they forgot how to play in 2016. Of course, for every Andy Cole, they’ve had a Nile Ranger, but the quality on show at St James’ over the years has left many opposition fans jealous.
It’s said that Magpies are attracted to shiny things by default (although they actually aren’t). It’s an inbuilt mechanism that allows them to forage more effectively, while it gives their nests an air of pizzazz. For the footballing equivalent, star strikers are their shiny things, and Newcastle have been blessed with a number of incredible ones over the past 25 years.
Of course, everything that glitters isn’t gold, and no Newcastle player has earned a Premier League title with the club since the beginning of the Premier League in 1992. It doesn’t mean that a proud team have been left wanting in terms of the players they had to call upon, as it was more a case of near-misses as they look back upon what could have been.
Here’s a collection of the biggest stories surrounding some the best-known strikers to play for Newcastle in the Premier League era, as well as their overall impact on the side and the city itself.
Alan Shearer: loyalty, near-misses and relegation
Where better to start? No Newcastle striker is bigger than Alan Shearer, the man fond of sharp elbows and holding a solitary hand aloft in celebration. He’s an icon for the club, although he also led the team to relegation when they leant on his abilities for one season too many.
Their biggest star might not have won any silverware with his beloved team, but he’s always going to be an icon, rewarded for a sense of loyalty that would have been questioned by even the most stalwart of followers. A league win with Blackburn Rovers can’t hurt either.
Shearer finished his career with a record-breaking tally of 260 Premier League goals in 441 appearances, cementing his status as the one of a select number of forwards who chose family over legacy.
Read | Alan Shearer: the greatest Premier League goalscorer of all
There was always talk that he would end up at a more traditionally successful side, with Manchester United circling throughout his career. The Premier League’s record goalscorer was memorably courted by the Red Devils for five years, but even the allure of trophies under Sir Alex Ferguson wasn’t enough to turn his head. It’s easy enough to see why.
He was brought back in as manager in April 2009, firstly for his legendary status as the club, but also with the expectation that comes with appointing a new boss. Even a dead cat will bounce once or twice, although there wasn’t much in it with just eight games to go. As an interim appointment, it was clear that he had one objective: survival. After dragging the team to 17th with a win over Middlesbrough in the following month, the side cracked, losing their last two games as they fell into the abyss.
Overall, it compounded a general sense of bewilderment, especially when looking back at the quality of their playing personnel. Regardless, it didn’t tarnish the reputation of their greatest striker, who might have failed but responded nonetheless when called upon for aid.
Gowen, Owen, Gone
On the subject of former England strikers, Michael Owen was still hot property when he agreed to dorn the black and white stripes in 2005. Roughly 20,000 fans turned up to watch him put pen to paper, while the £17 million he cost broke their transfer record at the time.
He arrived in a big money deal from Real Madrid, where he’d played second fiddle in a team packed with Galácticos. Owen was mostly reduced to appearing from the bench, although he managed to find the net regularly despite his limited role.
After a promising start to life back in England, injuries began to take their toll. Despite rumours that he would rather focus on horses, he managed to claw back to fitness, only to go down in the first few minutes with nobody around him in a World Cup tie against Sweden in 2006.
Read | Michael Owen: the boy wonder who came and went
His club side was primed for the drop with eight matches left to play in the 2008/09 season. Their star striker fought off injury worries to act as the focal point of the team, although he had a tame return considering the fanfare that first signalled his arrival. The goals eventually dried up and he failed to score from January onwards. He ended with just eight goals from 28 league appearances, which saw the Magpies drop into the Championship.
A surprise move to Manchester United closed that chapter in Newcastle’s history, which must be seen as an expensive mistake in hindsight.
Before both Shearer and Owen Peter Beardsley, who joined the newly promoted Newcastle in 1993. At the age of 32, it was his second stint with the team following a spell in the mid-1980s, where he established himself as their star player. His advancing years proved to be no barrier, and as a committed teetotaler he maintained a high level of fitness in his latter career.
He wasn’t exactly a snip at £1.5 million, so former teammate turned manager Kevin Keegan decided to go with the tactic of telling chairman Sir John Hall that rivals Sunderland were preparing to table a bid. He was promptly signed, and it proved to be a masterstroke. He was named in the PFA Team of the Year in 1994 and earned a recall to the international side after four years away.
When Shearer joined the club, Beardsley became the main provider for the team, sacrificing his goalscoring ratio for the greater good. It was a great record too, with 21 goals from 35 games in his first season back.
Read | The unorthodox genius of Peter Beardsley
Beardsley is arguably Newcastle’s most gifted player ever, though he too never managed to add to their trophy haul. Naturally, he complemented the emerging talent of Andy Cole, and his performances in midfield were just as important as the goals from Shearer and co.
Beardsley continued to serve the club after his retirement, working in a number of different roles, including a brief stint as their caretaker manager in 2010. He’s still actively supporting the team, offering advice and opinions about the club to this day.
Who can forget Andy Cole, who broke the club’s transfer record when he signed for £1.75 million in 1993?The side soon became known as the entertainers, with good reason.
The team qualified for the UEFA Cup after finishing third in the league, and he was one of the best young prospects in England, finishing chances at a ridiculous rate. In fact, he and Beardsley still hold the record for the most goals from a single season, with their tally of 55 considered unbeatable for the foreseeable future.
Cole left for Manchester United just two years later, forming a partnership with Dwight Yorke that came to be known as one of the deadliest in Europe at the time. Although Shearer comes to mind for his loyalty, most players couldn’t say no to the prospect of playing for the biggest and best club in the land at the time. Then again, others would struggle to get a move away in the first place.
Les Ferdinand and Patrick Kluivert
Of the best of the rest, Les Ferdinand and Patrick Kluivert easily come to mind because of their reputations as proven strikers, who could be counted on when the team were still a relevant force in both Europe and the league.
Ferdinand was signed in a deal worth £6 million in 1995, and he seemed to have the added edge the club were looking for as they battled for the Premier League title. In typical fashion, it didn’t end up going to plan.
With a 12-point lead in the title race, Kevin Keegan’s side looked to be set to claim their maiden Premier League title. They ended up falling away as Keegan himself imploded while being interviewed on TV, leading to an infamous rant that was oft repeated. They ended as runners-up for both of Ferdinand’s seasons with the team, and it’s the closest they’ve managed to get since the beginning of the Premier League.
Read | Patrick Kluivert and a lesson in scoring goals
In contrast, Kluivert wasn’t able to hit the ground running when he joined Newcastle on a free transfer nearly a decade later. When asked why he decided to swap the red and blue stripes of Barcelona for the black and white of the Toon, he spoke of the fans and his amazement at the level of support at the club. It sounds like a common quote – respectful but of no real substance – but he did mention that he remembered the fans from a Champions League tie between the two teams. The support for the side at 3-1 down was enough to stick in his memory.
He ended up turning on Shearer and manager Graeme Souness after just six league goals in a sporadic season. “There is only one man responsible for the fact that I did not become a big hit in Newcastle, his name is Alan Shearer. The man is God in the north. I think Shearer is a fantastic footballer, but Souness should have played [Craig] Bellamy and me together all the time.”
The Ameobi brothers
The Ameobi brothers have also helped to steer the club in recent decades, with Shola ever-present in the side during the highs and lows of the past 15 years. The elder Ameobi – who definitely isn’t Carl Cort – finally called time on his Newcastle career in 2014, able to look back on a superb equaliser against Barcelona as a personal highlight.
He might not have been the most gifted player, or even an especially good goalscorer, but his influence was well documented, and for a time he was one of the few links still remaining at the club that could be used as a reference to better times.
As for young brother Sammy, he was on loan with Bolton Wanderers for much of the 2016/17 season, but it seems unlikely that his contract will be renewed. It’ll be strange to see the side without an Ameobi in tow.
Nile Ranger is probably the most infamous of the post-Premier League crop. As a youngster, he was touted as a talent who could potentially play for England, Arguably now known for his lip tattoo and various episodes both on and off the pitch, it’s arguable that he could have performed at a higher level than League One if he truly applied himself. He won’t, though – a classic waste.
There aren’t many teams that can boast about having some of the best strikers in world football on their books at one point or another, though fate seemed to decide that cruelty was the most effective method of deliverance. They were tantalisingly close to silverware at times, led by their force of strikers, but always seemed to fall at the final hurdle.
It’s no coincidence that the lack of a world-class striker has hampered the squad in recent years. Demba Ba and Loïc Rémy did a decent job, but when they last went down, Georginio Wijnaldum was their top scorer with just 11 goals.
Strikers that deserve eulogies have been left out of this worded tapestry, and it only serves to underline the quality of the majority of those who represented Newcastle during the last few decades. No matter their respective goal tallies, most made fans envious across the country. It’s no coincidence that many went on to teams in the top four.
As for the here and now, their run to the Championship title this year under Rafa Benítez was boosted by the form of Dwight Gayle. A shrewd acquisition from Crystal Palace, he bagged 23 goals as the team strode to promotion in confident fashion. The Premier League is a different beast, and his tally with previous club Crystal Palace currently stands at a disappointing 0.23 goals per match. He’ll certainly need to improve to match some of the aforementioned greats.
Though Newcastle are not expected to struggle upon their return to the top flight, they will need somebody to shoulder the responsibility of getting goals on a regular basis and providing a focal point in attack. Given their history, it’ll be hard to match some of the best in recent memory.
By James Milin-Ashmore @jamoashmore