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An icy blast through St James's.

Byline: By Paul Gilder

From the sale of Solano to his disagreement with Dyer, Sir Bobby Robson has had a year to forget at St James's Park. The Newcastle manager's departure was the culmination of eight months of arguments, as Paul Gilder reports.

It was amid the ice and snow of a Norwegian winter that Sir Bobby Robson first began to feel the chill of discontent among his players. The Newcastle manager's relationship with his captain was already a frosty one and his controversial decision to not play Alan Shearer in a potentially difficult Uefa Cup tie in Oslo was met with an icy blast.

"I was angry, disappointed and surprised to be left out but it was the manager's choice. What can I do about it?" said the former England skipper.

The irony that it was less than 48 hours after leaving Shearer out again that Robson yesterday collected his P45 was lost on nobody.

The rumblings of disquiet have been emanating from within the St James's Park dressing room for some time. Shearer said nothing following his latest omission but, with so much strife evident from elsewhere in the camp, he didn't need to.

Even before the striker's outburst at the Ullevaal Stadium, Robson found himself fighting fires. Just five days after United were knocked out of the FA Cup by Liverpool, a pounds 1.5m bid for Nolberto Solano from Aston Villa was accepted and, having sold one of the most important players in his squad to one of the club's main rivals, the Magpies boss faced protests from supporters.

"The fans have just got to trust us ( we have done what we think is right in the long term and they will see that," he insisted. Solano, who shone at Villa Park on Saturday as Robson's final game ended in defeat, saw it differently as he offered an insight into a picture of disharmony.

"I'm just really pleased to be playing for a manager who believes in me," said the popular Peruvian, who accepted a significant pay cut to sign for David O'Leary.

For all of Darren Ambrose's promise, Solano was not adequately replaced.

Next to hint at the impending crisis at St James's Park was Hugo Viana. Signed for pounds 8.5m, a player who arrived on Tyneside in 2002 as the European Young Player of the Year, the Portuguese international found himself unable to break into the starting line-up, even when Newcastle were struggling.

"I was under the impression that Newcastle needed quality players and that's why they offered so much money for me," he said. "I was told Sir Bobby Robson was keen to sign me. But that was then." Viana, who has since rejoined Sporting Lisbon on a season's loan, was one of several players to speak out against his manager. Laurent Robert has become as well-known for expressing his feelings as his footballing ability but Robson has had much more to worry about.

Having overcome Real Mallorca 4-1 in the first leg of a Uefa Cup fourth-round tie in March, the return fixture in the Balearics should have been a low-key affair for a Newcastle squad aiming for European success. But the journey will be remembered for an airport fracas between Craig Bellamy and the first-team coach John Carver rather than a 3-0 triumph at Estadio Son Moix.

"I'm not prepared to talk about it," said a clearly-annoyed manager after reports of fists and flying chairs overshadowed a successful trip. "All I have done is have an argument with a working colleague, just like thousands of other people do in this country every day," insisted Bellamy, although his protestations of peace did not silence the rumours of a widening rift between some of the club's major players.

When Lomana LuaLua, on loan at Portsmouth, was allowed to play and score against Newcastle, Robson could not hide his exasperation. LuaLua, by later refusing to come back from Fratton Park to play in a Uefa Cup semi-final in Marseille as United attempted to cope with a mounting injury list, displayed the kind of attitude for which the latter days of Robson's reign will sadly be remembered. Having failed to steer the Magpies into the Champions League, the Magpies boss saved his job by securing Uefa Cup football on the final day of last season. But, with the club's European campaign not due to start for another two weeks, he did not get to see the fruits of his labours.

Robson's annus horribilis took a turn for the worst on August 1 when Freddie Shepherd publicly confirmed he wouldn't renew his manager's contract next summer. Within 29 days Robson had gone.

In the month between, English football's most-experienced manager endured perhaps the most testing time of his celebrated career. From the conjunctivitis outbreak which undermined United's start to the season to the sale of Jonathan Woodgate, nothing went according to plan.

When Kieron Dyer refused to follow team orders on the opening day of the season and Robson supported him in public he looked to be losing his grip. Dyer later issued an apology but there are many more who should be saying sorry to their former manager this morning.
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:The Journal (Newcastle, England)
Date:Aug 31, 2004
Words:866
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