After David Ginola’s recent appearance on Monday Night Football discussing Newcastle and their 1995/96 entertainers, it is impossible not to draw negative comparisons to the current team. The reasons for Newcastle’s current situation have been well documented, and whilst the free scoring days are long gone, there is at least a defensive organisation the likes of which the Geordie public have rarely seen.
However, there’s no looking past a fairly impotent attack in need of a goal scorer: an Alan Shearer. Salomon Rondon is the current incumbent of the number nine shirt but here’s a look at those who have tried to fill the Geordie legends boots since his retirement in 2006.
Obafemi Martins (2006-2009)
The long term solution to Shearer’s impending retirement was supposed to be Michael Owen, signed in August 2005. A broken metatarsal on New Year’s Eve followed by a hurried recovery programme in time to play for his beloved England all resulted in Owen damaging his ACL during the World Cup match with Sweden. Newcastle needed a new plan.
Obafemi Martins had found himself down the pecking order for Inter Milan in Serie A, and Newcastle swooped to bring him to St James’ Park in a deal worth in the region of £10m. A Nigerian international with explosive pace, Martins seemed like a perfect fit to replace Owen. Aged just 21, even if he wasn’t the finished article it seemed like a good investment.
Newcastle found themselves in a state of flux following the retirement of Shearer. Graeme Souness had been sacked in February and his replacement Glenn Roeder had done an exceptional job in rallying the team to a 7th place finish, and was appointed on a permanent contract. With funds a little light following the Owen signing the previous summer, however, Martins was partnered with the likes of Antoine Sibierski and young loanee Giuseppe Rossi in a difficult season.
He moved from the sublime to the ridiculous, the highlight being a rocket shot against Tottenham and six in nine UEFA Cup games. That was offset by a terrible penalty at Goodison Park and leaving the pitch on a stretcher at Villa Park with what turned out to be a dead leg.
A return of 17 goals in 46 league games was respectable in the circumstances, but Roeder was sacked and replaced by Sam Allardyce for the 2007/08 season. Martins found his pitch time shared with the returning Owen and new arrival Mark Viduka. However with results not good, new owner Mike Ashley sacked Allardyce after just six months in the hot seat and brought back Newcastle hero Kevin Keegan. As you’d expect, Keegan found a way to incorporate Owen, Martins and Viduka in an attacking team which lead to an impressive 4-1 win at Tottenham and a 2-0 win in the Tyne-Wear derby.
The 2008/09 season began with optimism for Newcastle and Martins scored the opener at Old Trafford as Keegan’s side secured a 1-1 draw. However, board room disagreements between Keegan and Ashley’s advisors regarding player transfers saw Keegan leave to be replaced by Joe Kinnear.
Newcastle hovered around the relegation places all season and despite Martins netting six goals in the run up to Christmas, he managed just two in 2009. Alan Shearer arrived in April following Joe Kinnear’s health problems but Martins’ only goal came in the 3-1 win against Middlesbrough as the Magpies were relegated. Martins left the club that summer to join Wolfsburg having scored 35 in 104 games.
Andy Carroll (2010-2011)
The number nine shirt was left vacant following relegation to the Championship. Peter Lovenkrands, Marlon Harewood, Shola Ameobi and Andy Carroll all vied for the striking positions in Chris Hughton’s Championship winning team, but it was home grown Carroll who shot to prominence with an exceptional second half of the season.
Finishing as the club’s top scorer with 19 goals was enough for Hughton to hand Carroll the number nine shirt at the beginning of the 2010/11 season and it immediately looked a smart decision as Carroll netted a hat-trick in a 6-0 win over Aston Villa. Carroll had scored 11 goals by January and despite a mixed run of form that had seen Hughton harshly replaced by Alan Pardew, Newcastle sat comfortably mid-table.
Despite Carroll publicly saying he wanted to remain at Newcastle, on deadline day 2011 Liverpool’s offer of £35m was deemed too good to turn down and Carroll was sold with no replacement in the offing. Carroll’s career probably peaked with a goal at Euro 2012 but he has suffered many injuries and is currently at West Ham trying to regain fitness after his latest setback.
Papiss Demba Cisse (2012-2016)
The proceeds of the Carroll deal were used to strengthen the squad in the summer of 2011. New signings Yohan Cabaye, Demba Ba, Gabriel Obertan and Davide Santon all arrived to freshen up the squad, and got Pardew’s side off to a great start. Ba was a particular sensation, arriving on a free transfer (plus a hefty signing on fee) and opting to wear the number 19 shirt. Hat-tricks against Blackburn and Stoke helped his side stay unbeaten until November and despite a rough end to the year, Newcastle were in the running for the European places at the turn of the year.
In a rare show of footballing sense, Mike Ashley decided to open the cheque book in January 2012. Papiss Demba Cisse had been in good goal scoring form for Freiburg in the Bundesliga and as an international colleague of Ba, it seemed a natural fit. Cisse was handed the number 9 shirt but fans had to wait for his debut. The African Nations Cup simultaneously denied Newcastle of Ba for most of January and delayed Cisse’s arrival on Tyneside.
His debut came from the bench at home to Aston Villa. This in itself caused a problem as Cisse set off warming up in front of the Leazes end. In other countries this would have been a perfectly acceptable move, but poor old Shola Ameobi was sent to go and retrieve Cisse and return him to the designated warm up area. Ba put Newcastle ahead that day and Cisse came on to score the winner – the way it was meant to be. However, it would be the last time in the season that both Ba and Cisse would get on the scoresheet in the same match.
Alan Pardew struggled to keep both happy. The system he settled on saw the side win six in a row, but it saw Cisse playing through the middle with Ba to the left and Ben Arfa to the right. An impressive dismantling of Liverpool saw Cisse score twice whilst two wonderful finishes from the same man brought a 2-0 success at Swansea. It was at Stamford Bridge, however, where we perhaps saw his finest hour.
Cisse opened the scoring with an accurate volley but then scored one of the greatest goals ever seen in the Premier League in the dying moments. He hit a right-footed half volley from well out on the left touchline that curved and dipped it’s way into the corner with the type of arc normally saved for a video game. Pundits and players stood aghast as Newcastle stood two games away from the Champions League.
Sadly, those two games were Man City at home and Everton away. Defeat against the team that would go on to be champions a week later basically ended any hope of qualification and that was confirmed by a 3-1 defeat at Goodison. Fifth place was still a great achievement, though. With Cisse available for the entirety of the next season, there was plenty of cause for optimism.
What happened instead was one of the strangest turnarounds in a player’s form in recent memory. Demba Ba’s form was excellent: Cisse’s and Newcastle’s in general were not. A missed penalty against Norwich, skied into the Gallowgate, summed up Cisse’s contribution. Even a goal against Bordeaux in the Europa League did little to improve his form.
His first league goal arrived at the end of October when the old adage of “he needs one to go in off his backside” was well and truly shot down. Sammy Ameobi’s injury time shot did just that and Cisse’s rear handed Newcastle the points but he would score just two further goals in 2012 as Newcastle’s form nosedived.
All the while Demba Ba was having a tremendous season which lead to Chelsea activating his release clause. It looked like Cisse being the main man again was just what he needed after he scored just two minutes into the first game of 2013. The arrivals of Moussa Sissoko, Yoan Gouffran and Mathieu Debuchy briefly roused the Magpies. Cisse’s contributions improved, the highlight being him scoring a ridiculous half volley from 30 yards against Southampton, even if replays showed he should be have been flagged offside.
By this point, Cisse was polarising the opinion of most Newcastle fans. He was anonymous in a lot of games, constantly offside and even when chances came his way, they were often missed. He did however score three last-gasp winners in a month, turning two home draws into wins and securing a spot in the last eight of the Europa League.
He was as brilliant as he was frustrating, a finisher excellent when relying purely on instinct but poor when given time. An enigma who was clearly difficult to work out. He did however score home and away against Benfica in Newcastle’s losing Europa League quarter final effort but Newcastle crawled to a 16th place finish.
The 2013/14 season was no better. Loic Remy joined and hit the ground running whilst Cisse had only a League Cup goal against Leeds to celebrate before Christmas. A Boxing Day game with Stoke saw his team mates offer him the ball for the second penalty of the day with the score at 4-1. Cisse stuck it in the top corner as if he’d been doing it all season but he wouldn’t score another league goal until March, where he netted a 94th minute winner against Crystal Palace. If nothing else, Papiss made you stay until the end.
The following campaign was another turbulent one for Newcastle as their league season started with no wins in seven, though a pair of doubles for Cisse at home to Hull and away to Swansea did at least show a glimmer of the player that had burst onto the scenes in 2012. Missing an open goal against Leicester would perhaps suggest otherwise and it would be December before Cisse netted again.
After equalising at Burnley he then went on to score both goals in a 2-1 win over Chelsea in one particularly productive week. A consolation at Old Trafford and a strike against Everton in Alan Pardew’s last game in charge meant Cisse finished the year in good form but also facing a three-match ban after clashing with an Everton defender from a corner. The incident was missed by officials but picked up by TV cameras and Cisse would have a leisurely start to 2015.
Assistant manager John Carver stepped into the manager’s position and with the club relatively safe in mid table, the season showed signs of petering out. An equaliser against Pardew’s Crystal Palace and the winner at home to Aston Villa eased the pressure on Carver but what happened next was nothing short of disgraceful.
A home game with Man Utd saw Cisse and Jonny Evans come to blows – or more accurately spit at each other – which rightly resulted in a seven game ban for Cisse with the previous suspension adding to the length of ban. Newcastle lost every game of Cisse’s ban on a run of eight consecutive defeats. Such was the diabolical end to the season they only stayed up with a final day win against West Ham.
Steve McClaren took charge for the 2015/16 season, and although Cisse started the season in the team he soon lost his place to new signing Aleksandar Mitrovic. Goals against Southampton on the opening day and in the 5-1 loss to Crystal Palace were all Cisse had to show for the McClaren era.
The former England manager was sacked in March and replaced by Rafael Benitez, who restored Cisse to the starting lineup. His last goal for the club came in the 2-2 draw at Anfield, halving the two goal deficit with a neat header just after half time. Newcastle would go on to be relegated despite a late flurry of form under Benitez and Cisse departed for Shandong Luneng in China.
Cisse’s eventful four and half years on Tyneside were a mix of the sublime and ridiculous. He scored some of the most unlikely goals I have ever seen and missed some sitters. He often displayed an awful first touch, whilst also plucking 70-yard passes out of the sky. After the spitting incident things were never really the same and there was a feeling he had let the club down. Anybody could miss chances but to get a seven-match ban was difficult to forgive. He left having scored 44 goals in 131 games.
Dwight Gayle (2016-2018)
Benitez set about rebuilding the club and was handed money to spend thanks to the sales of Gini Wijnaldum and Moussa Sissoko. Gayle was brought in to compete with Mitrovic for the one striker position in Benitez’s system and despite the manager suggesting a shooting competition to decide who got the number nine shirt, Mitrovic stepped aside to let Gayle wear it.
Despite a slow start where the Magpies lost their first two games, Gayle was off and running in his first home game, heading in a rebound after his penalty was saved. Two goals against Reading and the winner at Bristol City made it four goals in a week and Gayle’s form never really looked back from there.
Hat-tricks against Norwich and Birmingham were obvious highlights but Gayle consistently found the net and had 19 goals before the end of 2016. The 20th came at Brentford in mid-January but so did a hamstring injury that dogged the remainder of Gayle’s season. He added just three further goals as his pitch time was limited. However, Newcastle won the Championship and Gayle and his team mates would get the chance at Premier League football.
It had often been levelled at Gayle during his time at Crystal Palace that he wasn’t good enough for the very top level. Sadly those fears looked to be true as it took Gayle until November to get off the mark, opening the scoring in what turned out to be a 4-1 defeat at Old Trafford. He also scored against Chelsea and Leicester in December as he looked to have found some form but he wouldn’t net again until February when he scored twice at Bournemouth.
Although his pace became an important part of the team as Rafa’s side improved in the latter part of the season, on the last day of the season Gayle scored his sixth of the campaign against Chelsea. From 37 appearances (23 of which were starts) it was obvious that more goal threat would be needed if Newcastle were to progress from their 10th placed finish.
Although Benitez wanted to keep Gayle as a squad option, due to the lack of funds at his disposal he was forced into swapping Gayle for Salomon Rondon in a loan swap deal, though both moves can be made permanent. I’ll always have a soft spot for him because he was unreal at Championship level and I’ve no doubt he’ll score the goals to bring West Brom back up if he stays fit. Sadly it seemed a bit of a confidence and belief issue that he didn’t have the same conviction in the Premier League.
Salomon Rondon (Current number nine)
There’s no doubt that Rondon is a better fit for the Benitez system. His time on Tyneside so far has been plagued by injuries, but he has three goals to his name so far and the team seems better when he is in it. That said, his alternative is Joselu who certainly works hard but doesn’t have Gayle’s pace or Rondon’s brute strength. It’s too early to judge yet but so far he has scored in two league matches so there’s a long way to go to live up to even some of the names we’ve discussed in this article.