None of Newcastle United’s strikers have been issued the legendary No. 9 this season including new January acquisition Leon Best. It will be the first time since shirt numbers were introduced in 1939 that Newcastle has not had a No. 9. Speaking at his pre-match press conference before tonight’s Championship clash with Cardiff City, Hughton said
‘It’s one of the most iconic shirts around and it’s something I’ve done deliberately. We have a lot of strikers here and I’m quite sure every single one would have wanted to wear the No 9. When I came to this club I was made aware what the No 9 meant to this club. For some, it can be a heavy number to carry, a burden if you like. I want somebody to earn the right to be Newcastle’s No 9.’
The lack of a No.9 shirt for Newcastle United symbolizes much of their current demise. Relegation and an owner who seems to make it his life wish to be hated by every Newcastle fan possible by continually making baffling decisions. Whoever advised him to change the name of St James Park to something that resembles a spam email is lunacy. Especially at a time when his popularity was at an all time low. Yet Newcastle has always had the classic free scoring No. 9. Greats such as Jackie Milburn, Malcolm Macdonald and Alan Shearer have graced the number and created a powerful aura to that particular shirt. Can Newcastle say they now have a great goal scorer worthy of the iconic Geordie No. 9? They cannot, yet Hughton has played a clever trick.
What more motivation could a player have than to be offered such a revered number at St James Park? The challenging of the players could breed more hunger, desire and goals from his strike force. Shola Ameobi may have missed that boat with numerous chances to stake a claim for the Newcastle No. 9 and not particularly taking any of them, such a shame for a player who promised so much but has never quite fulfilled his potential. The most likely candidates appear to Carroll, Ranger or new signing Leon Best. Hughton continued further ‘I don’t want to suggest that the strikers we’ve got here aren’t worthy of that position or that number.’ In all honesty none of the strikers have yet proved they are worthy of such a position yet. This is only good for the club though and the strikers at Newcastle, the competitive edge between them will be even more intense and performances more scrutinized.
Thankfully no-one such as Leon Best will have the added burden of being given a number with such aura, presence and expectation. It heaps too much pressure on the player and can disrupt his performances. Hughton has played a clever card here. You can join the likes of Macdonald, Shearer and Milburn. But you have to earn it.