Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Souness Bets All on His French Double

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Souness Bets All on His French Double

Article excerpt

Byline: By Simon Rushworth

When Graeme Souness succeeded Sir Bobby Robson as the fifth Newcastle United manager of the Premiership era, a paper-thin back line, missing the departed Jonathan Woodgate, provided a ready-made case for the ambitious Scot's defence.

A perceived absence of defensive quality, coupled with an obvious lack of quantity, was immediately identified as the Achilles heel of an otherwise talented squad and within weeks Tyneside's worst fears had been realised.

Souness, to his credit, did not labour the point as his ever-changing teams leaked goals right, left and centre. Making excuses is not the feisty former Middlesbrough midfielder's style, but from day one Robson's successor accepted the need for urgent reinforcements at the back and his search for suitable personnel gathered pace.

Come December, the increasingly under-pressure Souness was publicly lamenting his inherited predicament and making clear he could only make the best of those limited resources available. A key change in emphasis ( Newcastle's manager was no longer prepared to protect those players responsible for familiar mistakes ( was widely interpreted as a final plea for substantial investment.

It was no coincidence that United's interest in Jean-Alain Boumsong was confirmed within days and the centre-half will move to St James's Park next week. Souness has been tracking the French international for months and the Rangers player will be the pivotal figure in an all-new defence.

All-new? Not quite. Sylvain Distin is the shock selection to partner his fellow countryman at the heart of Souness's back four, less than three seasons after he departed the Magpies in a blaze of propaganda-fuelled disgrace. A move as audacious as it is bold, the return of the talented but derided defender could make or break Newcastle's boss.

Throwing pounds 8m at yet another foreign centre-half with no Premiership experience is brave enough, but adding Distin to the mix could be the greatest gamble of them all.

Souness is nothing if not courageous and the decision to pursue both of his first-choice centre-halves is a gigantic risk few fellow managers would dare to take. For sheer front alone, Robson's successor should be commended.

Boumsong and Distin clearly have the potential to develop into the astute and athletic central defensive axis United have quite patently lacked ever since the club's graduation to the Premiership.

But the shadow of pessimism looms large over a city painfully familiar with the names of Marcelino, Alessandro Pistone and Alain Goma. Newcastle have a dreadfully poor track record where costly foreign defenders with big reputations are concerned, but those angrily questioning Souness' judgment should surely direct their ire elsewhere. …

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