How much of a dickhead is too much of a dickhead? It’s the eternal question facing managers and sporting directors coveting the talent that often comes with a certain temperamental arseholery. On planet NUFC, that question is currently distilled in the personality of one 21-year old footballer. Yousef Hatem (@yousef_1892) considers whether Gordon is just too Flash for his own good and for that of Eddie’s United. Spoiler – he’s not.
Picture the scene.
The Bernabeu, 25 October 2023. Matchday three in Champions League Group B. After a comfortable home win over Sturm Graz, and a creditable 1-1 draw in Leipzig, over 50,000 Mags have descended on the Spanish capital, where the autumn chrysanthemums are just coming into bloom. Incredibly, it’s still barely two years since the only Newcastle United employee seen anywhere near continental Europe on a school night was Sir Corpulent of Corbridge himself.
But there we were, and here we are. It’s 2-2 going into the fifth minute of injury time, a quick-fire Isak brace having cancelled out two early Madrid goals. 10,000 pairs of Geordie feet stomp up and down behind Thibaut Courtois’ goal, as – back in the centre of town – thousands more pairs of Geordie eyes are glued to a big screen.
Trippier’s corner is headed out, but only as far as Anthony Gordon, loitering on the edge of the penalty area like the ghost of Rob Lee. Gordon takes down the high ball on his chest, before unleashing a dipping volley which goes in off the underside of the crossbar. 3-2. Bottles of Mahou are spilt all over the Plaza Mayor. Patatas bravas are dropped in amazement. Jason Tindall finds God, right there in the away dugout. The final whistle goes, and Gordon is mobbed by his team-mates.
The 22-year old Liverpudlian forward is the toast of the Puerta del Sol until the early flights to Newcastle and Leeds-Bradford. The few hundred people left on Tyneside wake up to headlines such as “Gordon for England? Toon ace stakes Lions claim with late show” (The Mirror) and “Flash Gordon! Goal-den evening for Magpies’ Anthony as Toon sink Madrid” (Daily Mail).
Nobody, but nobody, mentions that – nine months ago – Gordon missed three days of training at Everton, now a lowly fourteenth in the Championship.
Yes, it’s a dick move not to turn up for training. Yes, it reflects badly on Gordon’s professionalism. Yes, it suggests a young man who is badly advised. Yes, Eddie Howe may find himself needing to read the proverbial Riot Act to young Anthony before he even kicks a ball. And yet, and yet, and yet. Pearls can be clutched too tightly.
Most of us supported the takeover and recognised that, if we wanted on-pitch success for Newcastle United, we might need to make our peace with being owned by a despotic theocracy. It takes a special kind of moral compass to become essentially relaxed about (or, at least, resigned to) that, and yet be energised by the notion that we might be interested in signing a young man with a penchant for truancy. If we are being facetious – and let’s face it, we should be – is any serious source actually contending that anything productive actually happens at an Everton training session, anyway? Has Gordon missed out on a valuable learning experience? See: the man’s a fucking visionary.
Most footballers are millionaires. Most millionaires are arseholes. Anthony Gordon is definitely a millionaire, and most probably an arsehole. None of this was news last week, and it isn’t news this week. All that’s happened is that – if reports are to be believed – he’s heading to Newcastle. If he’s a good enough footballer to help us get to where we want to be, and not quite enough of an arsehole for it to cancel out how good he is at football, he’ll do for me.
Gordon is undoubtedly a good footballer and, while the price being talked of (somewhere in the region of £50m – £60m) is more than small change, it is no more and no less than the going rate for a first-team player at a club with Champions League aspirations. Spend even slightly less and, these days, you end up with various shades of shite. Yannick Bolasie? Cenk Tosun? Davy Klaassen? In fact, pretty much anyone who’s played for Everton in the past five years. Except, of course, the future toast of the Bernabeu himself, our star-boy, the man who fills up his Tesla at the Jet garage on the Felling Bypass every Monday wearing only a sarong, and who has magic in his boots.
Newcastle United is now a proper footballing operation. We don’t buy out of desperation, we don’t buy things that won’t improve us, and we don’t buy anyone whom Eddie Howe – understated but supremely effective as a man-manager – doesn’t think he can get the best out of. Maybe this means we won’t buy Anthony Gordon. I don’t know. But, if we do, the club will have made an informed decision – there’s nothing that we know about him that the football club doesn’t. Would signing Gordon be a gamble, given what seems to be emerging about his attitude? Sure, but isn’t everything? Isn’t it a gamble to start Dan Burn at left back? Or to start Wilson, ever, knowing that he’s made of crepe paper?
Eddie Howe manages a first-team squad containing players with 13 different nationalities (English, Brazilian, Paraguayan, Scottish, French, Swedish, Dutch, German, Swiss, Welsh, Northern Irish, Spanish and Slovakian), and with abilities as disparate as Bruno Guimaraes and Jamal Lewis. He has recently had to deal with Joelinton’s brush with the law. He even managed, for a time, to get a tune out of Ryan Fraser, a player who had personally let him down by refusing to play for Bournemouth at all, even while still under contract. There’s plenty to suggest that Eddie can handle the challenge that Gordon presents. And anyway, over the coming years, as we get bigger and bigger, we’ll just have to get used to players with bigger and bigger egos. Multi-millionaires? Newsflash: they’re even bigger arseholes.
Gordon is a good player. I hope we buy him. Mind, he’d better turn up for training. He’ll learn a lot more from Bruno than he ever would have from Dwight McNeil this week.
YOUSEF HATEM @yousef_1892