Would Woody have made all the difference? - 29/01/2003

I’ve been a bit surprised with all the excitement over the Woodgate tranfer rumours. Whilst he’s undoubtably a class defender, for me, Jonathan Woodgate's game still needs to mature a little. People keep telling me to change the record, but the only player capable of coming into Newcastle’s back four and making a definite and immediate impact is Jaap Stam.

Take a look at the centre-halves we have at the club; Titus Bramble, Aaron Hughes, Andy O’Brien, Stevie Caldwell, Nikos Dabizas. All of them really good professionals, and with the exception of Dabizas, they’re all young. Jonathan Woodgate would undoubtably have improved Bobby Robson’s side, but what it really cries out for is a genuinely dominant, experienced, and class campaigner. Jaap Stam is the only one who fits the mould, he may be getting on, but he’d be able to offer at least two to three seasons. His impact on the other individuals would also be immense, he’d bring out the best in them and re-pay his transfer fee and wages comfortably. Individually all our players are more than decent, but what we lack is the classic partnership such as a Bruce-Pallister, or a Keown-Adams. I’m sure that Jaap Stam could have provided one side of such a pairing.

One aspect of the proposed transfer that seemingly wasn’t picked up is the negative affect on the five centre-halves presently at the club. Although they’d professionally appreciate working alongside Woodgate, I bet every one of them finds the situation a little unsettling. They’ll know that, if you count Stevie Caldwell, there are already five first team regular players of their position at the club. To add another increases the pressure further, and my guess is that they’d be at least one departure at the end of the season. I look at Titus Bramble and wonder what he must think, lets face it, injury hasn’t been kind the lad, and he’s never had a decent run in the side. Confidence plays a big part in football, and I just hope that the Woodgate saga has a positive affect with a determination to prove themselves - rather than a negative affect through undermining confidence.

Tottenham tonight is a big, big game. Win it…and we’re one more step towards the title. In this respect, we should go to White Hart Lane with plans to bring back all the points, a draw wouldn’t do. We’re not that far away from some glory, but sometimes you need to gamble and it doesn’t suit our style to set out to get a single point.

Talking of a single point, that’s exactly what I’d have called a fairly good result for Sunderland last night. But in going down to Southampton, I really think that they’re as good as down. I’m not gloating at Sunderland, and I know I risk upsetting a few Newcastle fans, but I want Sunderland in the Premiership. I’ll give you three reason why:

1) The Sunderland fans deserve to be in the Premiership. The North East is home to the most passionate supporters in the country and in comparison to teams south of the Tyne and Wear, how many of them can call on the levels of support attracted by Sunderland?

2) A season in the Premiership without a Newcastle v Sunderland derby just isn’t the same. It’s a superb occasion and to wish away games like that is beyond me.


3) It’s better for my job as a North East football pundit!

OK, I now that wasn’t a popular statement to make, but it’s how I feel. But one things for sure, unless Bolton have a bigger disaster than Sunderland, season 2003-2004 will be without one of the best derbies in the world.

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