Does Harry Want All That Toon Trouble?

Last updated : 11 January 2008 By Jim Bonner

Neville Dalton is a journalist with the BBC News website and a Portsmouth fan of 40 years. His expressed views are his and not necessarily those of the BBC.

I wouldn't blame Harry if he did take the Newcastle job. I'd severely question his mental faculties, but I wouldn't begrudge him the post.

It's not the same as taking over at Southampton - especially after denying he ever would.

And Newcastle does represent a tangible change of environment and scale.

But therein lies the main reason I don't believe he'll take it.

Why would he want to?

As I told a Portsmouth-supporting work colleague who asked me the same question, there are one or two obvious reasons why he might be tempted.

The money, for one: I reckon Harry likes a fiver or two, and the chance to double that giant salary he's just secured from Pompey must be pretty tempting.

Then there's the profile. If there's one thing Harry likes more than striking a cute deal it's basking in the admiration of a football-obsessed world that by and large respects his managerial achievements at clubs that aren't expected to compete with the really big boys.

Everything's bigger at St James' Park - the city, the stadium, the squad, the wages, and even (if Toon lore is to be believed) the passion…

But of course, so is the expectation.

I know indignant Newcastle fans have been telling anyone who will listen that they're not unreasonable. They just want some success - preferably in style.

But as surely even they will have realised by now, success is never guaranteed, still less in an era when the haves are pulling inexorably away from the have-nots and the never-in-a-month-of-Sundays-mate.

What if Harry can't deliver? Why should he be so different from the Gullits, Robsons, Sounesses and Allardyces who have gone before?

More to the point, what makes anyone think he'll be given the latitude to carry on rebuilding, if early results are not as he would hope, that none of his recent predecessors has been afforded?

It's not that I doubt his ability to handle the pressure. Think back to Pompey's predicament when he took over (and no, I'm not buying his oft-spun yarn about them being bottom, without a win since fans wore flat caps and with the worst ever squad when he became boss).

But we were in the lower reaches. Certainly no one could dream that within 12 months we would have walked away with the Division One championship, and a few years later we'd be cursing the fact that we missed out on a place in Europe.

He handled the pressure of building from scratch a team that he then rebuilt and galvanised to consolidate its place in the top flight.

He had precious little money at his disposal and an up-and-down relationship with Milan Mandaric.

He walked out; angered a city; attracted threats and had the brass neck/bravery/arrogance (take your choice) to return to silence the boo boys and build yet another team of flair and - this time, crucially - results.

Yes, he can handle the pressure all right. But if he went Oop North, there would be a lot more of it.

His every move would be scrutinised, even more than it is at Pompey.

Every wrong decision, every suspect buy (OK, I admit there haven't been too many of those lately, but he has made mistakes) would be magnified in the goldfish bowl that is St James' Park.

Expectation would be noticeably higher than in Portsmouth.

And let's face it, thick-skinned as he can choose to be, Harry doesn't take kindly to criticism.

What if after a couple of months all is not well? What if the Newcastle board loses its nerve (hard to imagine, I know!)?

At Fratton Park, unless Pompey are relegated or some of the mud surrounding transfers he's been involved in sticks, nothing can really go wrong for him.

But retaining the status quo at Newcastle - even a slight improvement - won't be enough for most Geordie boys.

To be fair, the success-starved fans would indulge his idiosyncrasies and any early failings rather more than they would those of the blunt instrument that is Sam Allardyce.

At least the Toon would have the consolation of seeing some attractive football at St James' (even if they'd soon forget what a goal looked like).

But the risks are higher and the upheaval significant for a man now in his 60s who's had his share of problems lately.

And how would Mrs R, still no doubt shaken by her dawn visit by Pc Plod and co, take to having even less time with her old man - or having to pop up the A1 for an appointment?

If he does go, I believe it will be less about the money and more about his inability to resist the lure of garnering an even higher profile for himself and the chance of enhancing his reputation still more.

But when he considers the flip side of that paragraph, I reckon it will eradicate any lingering temptation he might have to manage the Barcodes.

Mind you, I nearly bought Harry the air ticket to Newcastle myself when I read the adjoining headline on The News' sports pages: Harry wants the Lauren to solve his right-sided problems against Sunderland.

It served to remind me why Harry - for all his qualities - is not perfect.

A final thought: If I'm wrong and he does up sticks again, who should replace him?

There are a few names I fancy would do a good job - Martin Jol, Tony Adams, Tony Mowbray, and what's that flash Portuguese bloke's name?

But the one I'd plump for if the unthinkable did happen is Bristol City's Gary Johnson.

I'm a great admirer of his achievements at Yeovil - not just the results but the style in which they were achieved.

And he's carried on the good work at Bristol City.

And let's face it, anyone who can turn them into a decent side must be worth a go.