After his first international goal, the youngster’s role (or lack thereof) in the Hearts team since his loan move in January has left some Toon fans scratching their heads. Scott Robson delves deeper.
Newcastle United was a shell of a club under Mike Ashley. Other clubs had departments, strategies, and plans. We had, well, not much at all.
It was something of a surprise then to discover we were getting a “loan coordinator” and even more of a surprise when it was announced that the role was going to Shola Ameobi. Ameobi’s remit was to provide a smooth route for younger first team or older youth team players to get experience elsewhere while also keeping an eye out for anyone cheap and cheerful that was stupid enough to join us. Ameobi protested to the Chronicle, “Dortmund have loan coordinators as well”. How we chuckled.
Sceptics would point out that he didn’t really do much at all in two years before, just in time, when the new owners were going through the club with a fine tooth comb, he got Elliot Anderson the Bristol Rovers gig, and he probably saved his skin. Typical Shola, some would say.
Now though, he’s really having to earn his corn. United are scouring the earth for young stars who can be integrated into the club. They want players to have an impact at NUFC or to sell these players on and therefore smash the fair play rules to smithereens. It’s gone beyond making sure Dan Barlaser has his bait box on the way to Crewe.
The real hot potato, and the first true test of Ameobi’s responsibilities, arrived in January in the shape of Garang Kuol. Heart of Midlothian won a packed race to loan the gifted 18-year-old Australian, and just last week, Kuol – who announced himself to the world with a few head-tuning moments in Qatar – scored his first ever international goal for the Socceroos.
Newcastle United announced the signing of Kuol way back in September. After the World Cup (when he almost knocked out eventual winners Argentina), it was thought he might peripherally join the first team squad. However, the path set by Eddie Howe and co was different – get him out, get some experience and get him toughened up.
Bristol City looked favourites, but he ended up at Tynecastle in a move, presumably authorised by Ameobi, that made a degree of sense. An hour or so away on the train, a team near the top of the league and a squad that contained three players he had just spent a month with playing for Australia. What could go wrong?
In just over three months, however, not much has happened. Kuol has played 189 minutes in the league for the Jam Tarts with no goals or assists. Suddenly the knives are out both for the Edinburgh side for not playing him and for Ameobi for sending him there.
This needs to be looked at with greater reasoning than some of the comments online from our fans. The ‘SPFL is a Sunday league’ squad has been out in force, but try saying that to the likes of Joey Barton, Matty Longstaff and Shane Duffy. There are many skeletons left on the A1 of so-called elite players who go up expecting an easy ride and get mauled.
As a watcher of Scottish football, I find the criticism of the league to be lazy, a bit like when people thought that players coming from France were soft – only for one Yohan Cabaye to land and rake the back of Achilles’ everywhere from Sunderland to Sheffield.
For Hearts, the question is simple – will they play someone who isn’t performing as well as others? They have a player in Lawrence Shankland, who has scored 20 goals in 28 games, and another in Stephen Humphrys who recently scored the goal of the season.
Kuol simply must wait his turn – something the youngster himself freely admitted to the Edinburgh Evening News a month or so ago:
“Yeah, 100% it’s up to me what I do in training. I’m going to keep working hard in training and put pressure on the gaffer. He has told me to work hard every day and aim to get a start. Once I do, I will keep it. It’s all about knocking on the door”.
Sounds pretty fair from a grounded-looking lad whose family emigrated from Sudan via Egypt just before he was born. He knows the crack. In truth, Eddie Howe will probably want him doing more than knocking on the door, but having sent him out on loan, it’s up to the club who’s borrowing him to decide whether or not he plays.
The situation takes me back to when Guiseppe Rossi joined us from Manchester United in 2006.
He managed one goal in 13 games, and Alex Ferguson said we were getting no one else on loan in the future as we went back on a promise to play him regularly. NUFC (and some fans) got very prickly, and the club retorted, quite rightly, that we’d play who we wanted. If he isn’t better than what’s here, it doesn’t matter who his parent club is. Fast forward 16 years, and some similar realism is needed.
For Kuol, the message is clear. Use the next eight weeks to prove this move wasn’t a mistake – and possibly save Shola’s job. Hearts are suddenly out of form and have teams breathing down their neck in third place. It’s all set up for an Aussie livewire to step up and do exactly what James Maddison (possibly a teammate next year) did when he went to Aberdeen. Make his mark and be revered by the club’s fans. It could easily happen, but it won’t be on our terms, lads and lasses.
With a debut international goal now under his belt, Garang might just have the springboard he needs to push himself into the Hearts first team and truly make his mark. A message for manager Robbie Neilson though – don’t play Kuol in a holding midfield role, as you did against Rangers. Only an idiot would do that.