Gerrard at Villa is the perfect fit, but Newcastle blew their chance

MARTIN SAMUEL: Steven Gerrard is perfect for Aston Villa, he gives them more clout and he can be a game-changer… Newcastle missed a trick – he could have been theirs had they been bold

  • Steven Gerrard is a big name who has taken over a big club in Aston Villa  
  • Newcastle could have had him as their boss if they had taken a bold approach 
  • Gerrard is marquee name who could have attracted players to St James’ Park
  • Backing him with Saudi Arabian investment was a partnership to be feared 

It is a good fit. For him, for them, Steven Gerrard and Aston Villa feels right. He is a big name for a big club, and has made a highly promising start in management. They demand progress and have shown readiness to invest in a project.

This could work. Newcastle must be kicking themselves.

All it would have taken was to be bold. We know that now. Gerrard could have been prised out of Rangers with a clearer, more determined approach.

Villa got Gerrard because they made him their No 1 choice. Had Newcastle done the same it is likely he would be their manager.

Steven Gerrard and Aston Villa are a perfect fit – a big name manager and a big club united 

Instead, while Gerrard was made aware of interest on Tyneside, it was as part of an interview process. He would be considered, that’s all.

It is not what any candidate wants to hear — and certainly not the manager of Rangers. They too are a big club. Not in terms of modern football realpolitik because the strength of the Scottish League keeps them relatively small, but in terms of support, history, significance in local daily life, Rangers are huge.

Most definitely their supporters think this. How then could Gerrard entertain a conversation with any English club that might come to nothing, but may also leak — indeed quite probably, given Newcastle’s form — therefore alienating him at Ibrox but leaving him stuck. Villa changed the dynamic with a promise and an offer. Gerrard was their No 1.

When Daniel Levy — nobody’s contender for Chairman of the Year 2021 — went in pursuit of Antonio Conte he did not court him with talk of a shortlist of interviewees. He did the deal. Yet if the last few weeks have been a managerial draft, Newcastle had first pick — and they blew it.

Gerrard was lured in by the people at Villa because they made him their No 1, unlike Newcastle

They won’t admit this because how could they? Yet reports from St James’ Park of Eddie Howe’s grand unveiling on Wednesday were decidedly underwhelming. 

The new owners took over the club amid scenes not unlike The Beatles at Shea Stadium, but an eyewitness put the numbers welcoming Howe at no more than 20. That doesn’t make him a bad manager, or a bad choice, but one imagines Gerrard’s arrival on Tyneside might have been met rather differently.

In a BBC poll shortly after the takeover, only Conte attracted more support as successor to Steve Bruce, and that ship has sailed too.

The new owners are populists. They briefed that Bruce would be gone before the first game to get the locals onside, then went prematurely with the appointment of Unai Emery. Bringing Gerrard to Tyneside may have delivered scenes nearer to Kevin Keegan’s homecoming, which is no doubt how these early weeks were envisaged.

Instead, there was Howe — an appointment that would have sent the fans giddy a year ago, but now feels undersold.

This week’s spin was about his brilliant interview, his impressive plans for the future, and how much it excited the decision-makers.

Eddie Howe is not a bad manager, but his unveiling at St James’ Park was underwhelming

So much so they went straight out and offered the job to Emery. Now it transpires they could have recruited Gerrard with greater focus.

Still, credit to Villa for getting it done. This is, potentially, a game-changing move because Gerrard is a game-changing manager.

He is a coach that players will want to work with, an asset in any transfer window and not just in Britain. Foreign players will know him, will have grown up admiring him. Villa do not have Newcastle’s money but Gerrard gives them more clout.

At Newcastle, backing him with Saudi Arabian investment was a partnership to be feared.

Take, for instance, Kalvin Phillips or Declan Rice. These are players currently active with clubs outside the traditional elite, who Newcastle might think they could persuade to travel north with lavish contractual offers.

Be the first, be the Yaya Toure of this revolution, become a living legend on Tyneside. Yes, it’s still a hard sell. But then add Gerrard. You want to be the best midfielder in Europe? Come and work with the coach who was. Come with us on our journey to the pinnacle of the European game.

Newcastle had first pick at Gerrard and blew their chance, he would be theirs if they were bold

With Howe at the helm, Newcastle cannot yet be sold that way. He’s a realist.

‘I’m absolutely confident we can stay up,’ he said. ‘But I make no promises.’

It could be argued that Gerrard is more a gamble than Howe for a club in a relegation battle. Villa are two points off the bottom three with a manager in his first Premier League job.

Howe performed brilliantly to keep Bournemouth in the top division against the odds for four seasons. He was a shrewd operator then and may need to be again, if rumours of a concerted domestic strategy to thwart Newcastle are true.

While rules changed specifically to target one club and one takeover might bring charges of operating as a cartel, a refusal to solve Newcastle’s problems in the transfer market would be harder to pin down. If 19 clubs grouped together and refused to sell to Newcastle, it would be unfair but would also make sense.

Case study: James Tarkowski at Burnley. Buying him could strengthen Newcastle’s defence and keep them up.

Gerrard is the marquee name who could have attracted high profile signings to Newcastle

Yet three are still going down, so if Newcastle are no longer one of them, it increases the chance that Burnley will be — particularly having sold a defensive mainstay. So why do that?

Yet if Newcastle are relegated they are nobody’s problem for at least a year — and maybe more if grand plans are then hampered by strict financial fair play rules in the Championship. This is why even a deal for Jesse Lingard at Manchester United is uncertain.

Why would United, right now, wish to help preserve the status of another club with ambitions to make the big six a big seven? They are struggling to compete as it is.

So Gerrard and Howe’s first tasks are identical: survival. Then it is about the future. Villa are ambitious, but Newcastle’s plans are clearly greater, more expensive and more transformative.

And while Howe has great quality, Gerrard is the marquee name; one that might have changed overnight how the Newcastle takeover was perceived.

It feels like an opportunity gone by. Off the field, as much as on it, Newcastle continue to wait for a first big win.

ARE PSG’S WOMEN PROVING POCH RIGHT? 

Paris Saint-Germain coach Mauricio Pochettino has been mocked for saying Ligue 1 is the most physical in the world, which seems a little harsh. He was probably just talking about the matches involving the women’s team.

OUTRAGE AT RADUCANU MISSES THE POINT… SOON WE WON’T BE ABLE TO SPEAK AT ALL 

Sport is about opinions. That’s why we love it. We all know someone who doesn’t rate Pep Guardiola, or thinks anyone could win in Lewis Hamilton’s car. That’s the beauty. Simultaneously, it unites and divides us.

Apart from Emma Raducanu. She’s different. You can’t say anything even mildly critical of Raducanu without the hellhounds of scorn in pursuit; as Eddie Jones now knows.

England’s rugby coach was making a point last week about rising star Marcus Smith, and the need to remain focused. His mistake was to use Raducanu as his reference point.

‘There’s a reason why the young girl who won the US Open hasn’t done so well afterwards,’ he said. ‘What have you seen her on? The front page of Vogue or Harper’s Bazaar or whatever, wearing Christian Dior clothes.’

England rugby boss Eddie Hearn was hounded for criticising Emma Raducanu but sport is about having an opinion

It wasn’t his best-constructed sentence because the ‘young girl’ has a name but what followed — accusations of sexism, of misogyny — completely missed the point.

Raducanu is the most recent and noteworthy example of an athlete experiencing great success and professional opportunity, and needing to finely balance dual aspects of a career. This didn’t stop Jo Durie wading in.

‘No one ever complains about blokes going to galas — it’s always something that is thrown at women,’ she said.

But that’s not true. Leaving gala attendance specifically out of it, there are hundreds of sportsmen whose social activities away from the arena have drawn negative scrutiny: David Beckham, Lewis Hamilton, Jack Grealish, Dwight Yorke, Freddie Flintoff, Sven Goran Eriksson, George Best, Kevin Pietersen. Entire teams, too: Liverpool’s white-suited Spice Boys, Chelsea in the heyday of the King’s Road, Galactico-era Real Madrid. Hamilton was bagged by Red Bull for attending the same Met Gala event as Raducanu in September.

Equally, many took issue with Jones calling Raducanu a ‘girl’. How so? She was taking her A-levels this summer. She’s 18, so still a teenager. And what are teenage females most commonly called? Teenage women? No. Teenage girls. 

Just as we refer to teenage boys, not teenage men, even though teenagers can fight in the army. We have got to stop reading insult and outrage into every single word in the English language or nobody will be able to speak.

We threaten to stop people being able to speak if we read insult and outrage into every word

Jones has written to Raducanu to clarify his comments. She’s usually more level-headed about this stuff than her champions. Ask John McEnroe.

Personally, I don’t agree with Jones. An impressive turn as a replacement against Tonga in no way compares to the uncharted water of winning the US Open as a qualifier. As a teenager, why would Raducanu pass up the best of the invitations that then came her way? She will have worked extraordinarily hard to get where she is. She will work extraordinarily hard in the future, too. So she’s entitled to some fun.

Yet the counter-argument is also worth heeding. For a young player with such enormous talent, great discipline will be required. Supporters point out Raducanu has won two and lost three of the matches she has played since Flushing Meadows, which isn’t a terrible run.

But this is tennis, not football. In tennis, every loss is a knockout. In tennis, two wins in every five games could never take a player further than a losing quarter-final in any Grand Slam, and only then with a specific sequence: LLLWWWWLLL.

The positive claims being made for Raducanu’s recent stretch have no logical foundation given her sport.

Michael Yormark announced Jones’ attitude was ‘exactly the reason rugby needs to change’. He said this ‘as a sports enthusiast before anything else’, so not as the president of Roc Nation, the entertainment company founded by Jay-Z and with a lot of high-profile athletes that need marketing on its roster — including Maro Itoje and Siya Kolisi, captain of South Africa.

It’s good to clear that up, because otherwise cynics might think there was a conflict of interests.

Still, not since McEnroe had the temerity to talk as if he knew anything about tennis, has there been such a backlash against professional opinion.

At least we know where we stand now, though. Firmly behind freedom of speech, unless it involves Emma Raducanu. Isn’t she great?

POGBA MAY HAVE PLAYED HIS LAST UNITED GAME… AND HE WON’T BE MISSED MUCH

Paul Pogba will be out until the New Year. It should feel like a huge blow to Manchester United, yet strangely doesn’t.

Maybe it’s because he’s missed 69 matches through illness or injury across little more than five seasons already — compared to just eight games in four full seasons with Juventus. Or maybe it’s because United can look as underwhelming with Pogba in the team as they do without him.

Paul Pogba will be out until the New Year for Man United, but why doesn’t it feel like a big blow?

Before getting suspended, then injured, Pogba started in the defeats by Young Boys, Aston Villa and Leicester and briefly lost his place in the starting line-up towards the end of October. 

He was poor in what may be his last game for the club, against Atalanta on November 2. There is talk he may be sold in the January transfer window, in which case that unmemorable night serves as a farewell.

And yes, a lot of players are going backwards under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. It is hard, however, to think when Pogba went forwards under either of his Manchester United managers.

GOLD AND SULLIVAN AREN’T SO BAD FOR WEST HAM AFTER ALL

Daniel Kretinsky, a Czech billionaire, has bought 27 per cent of West Ham at a cost of £160million. There may be a full takeover down the line. This values the club at £600m, or £700m including debt. 

So it was probably just as well that the current ownership rejected the overtures of PAI Capital, a £400m offer, or as little as nothing, depending on your source. 

Unfortunate news, though, for noted West Ham enthusiasts Rio and Anton Ferdinand and Tony Cottee, who all backed the PAI Capital proposal — meaning they undervalued the club they profess to love by anything between 33.3 and 42.8 per cent and would have sold it to a bunch of chancers in the middle of what is shaping up to be a very good season. 

Turns out David Sullivan and David Gold wouldn’t be the worst people to have in charge after all.

West Ham owners David Gold (L) and David Sullivan (R) aren’t as bad as fans claim after rejecting an offer as little as £400m to buy the club




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