Today this series steps away from focusing on youth and instead, controversially perhaps, turns to one of our senior professionals.
Shola is a ‘Marmite’ kind of player and has always been the source of much debate when it comes to how much he contributes to the team. Yes, he is an established squad member and has been for a very long time so some of you may question why I consider him to be in this bracket. Fringe player refers to anybody who is not a first-team regular.
Shola is our third choice striker behind Demba Ba and Leon Best. When the new striker arrives in January, it is understandable perhaps to assume that our Nigerian born Geordie will slip further down the pecking order. With Alan Pardew seemingly favouring a mixture of 4-4-2 and 4-4-1-1 formations at the minute – utilising Hatem Ben Arfa between Demba Ba and Yohan Cabaye – one has to question when Ameobi senior is actually likely to get a decent run in the starting line up?
Standing at 6’2″ tall and not exactly being a bean pole, the lad should be more than able to hold his own up front. Sometimes he does. However more often than not in years gone by he has been bounced off defenders faster than I’ve been bounced off my wife when I’ve got all suggestive!
This has seen some sections of our supporters refer to him as ‘Bambi’. Cruelly in my opinion as he is in love with this club and desperate to do well for it. That said, it is easy to see how the comparison is made.
Shola moved to Newcastle in 1985 aged 5 years old. Walker Central Boys Club picked him up before our very own Academy snapped him up. He signed a pre-contract in 1997, made his reserve debut against Sunderland in 1998 and his 1st team bow against Chelsea in 2000. He has scored 71 goals in 316 appearances (about 1 in 4 and half appearances), but 102 of those were off the bench invariably in the last 30 minutes. That works out as a goal every 3 and half full games. Not a bad return for a bloke who rarely gets a proper run in the side. A history of knee and hip problems have not particularly helped his cause.
He has played for the England U-21 side and scored five goals against the Mackems in our colours. The mighty Barcelona have also fallen victim to his striking skills. Not in a friendly either. It was an authentic European clash! This year he signed a contract extension keeping him here until the summer of 2014. More recently he scored two in the win that dumped Chelsea out of the League Cup and grabbed the equaliser against Spurs at St James’ Park this season. Apart from a short loan spell with Stoke City, he has spent his entire career with Newcastle and is now officially registered with FIFA to represent Nigeria.
Shola has the ability to unleash a ferocious shot and his penalty taking skills are actually very good. He is not bad in the air, but could and should be a lot better in fairness. Too easily brushed off the ball, he seems to lack the killer instinct and drive to really stick it in the opposition. Is he just too nice a guy? He gets a lot of stick for drifting out of games and appearing to lack effort. Watching him sometimes it is not hard to see how people draw these conclusions.
It is easy to think these things, but when I actually stop to think about it the truth is obvious. Shola lacks stamina. That is why he often starts from the bench and when he starts, he is usually subbed. He drifts out of games because there is nothing left in the tank. Does he work hard enough on his fitness off the pitch? Who knows. The management will do!
Other factors are lack of pace, lack of fight and lack of bite. He cannot tackle. What he can do however, is put himself on the right positions in and around the box.
What Alan Pardew has worked out, is that given the odd 20 minute cameo at the end of a game Shola is as strong as anybody and makes life very difficult for opposition defenders in their own area as they are ground down a bit by then (thanks to the relentless work of Leon Best who usually makes way). Could it be that a Toon manager has finally found a role that Ameobi can perform consistently well to a high standard?
At 30 years old, wor Shola is heading for his twilight years. He is at a stage where he should be looking to play regular football for the full 90 minutes, but his love for this club, his role as a senior player and the responsibility of guiding his ever impressive little brother Sammy (Tomi is plying his trade in Iceland) probably means he will want to stick around as long as possible.
With a new striker likely to come in this January, will Shola keep his place on the bench? If not, what will he actually contribute to the team considering he is reported to earn £25k a week? Would the role of fourth choice striker be better placed in the hands of one of the up and coming lads like JJ Hooper and Adam Campbell who would be less of a financial drain and worth more to us in the long run with the experience they would gain?
The vote on wor Shola is not about the long term this time, just the short term, so vote now and have your say.