A team packed with qual­ity, with still so much class left to choose from

Sunday Sun - - Football - Mark Dou­glas

IF there’s one thing I can’t stand in mod­ern foot­ball, it’s these fic­tional ar­gu­ments we see from time to time about which club is “big­ger” than an­other – as if there is some sort of lit­mus test by which it can be ac­cu­rately mea­sured.

You can tell when some­one – usu­ally a bet­ting com­pany look­ing for retweets or shares on their so­cial me­dia chan­nel – is des­per­ately spoil­ing for a bit of at­ten­tion when they start the ar­gu­ment about the big­gest club in the Cham­pi­onship or North East or Manch­ester.

It was a de­bate that reached its nadir last month when Si­mon Jor­dan – the ex-chair­man of Crys­tal Palace who is in­ex­pli­ca­bly in­vited to pass com­ment on Sky’s oc­ca­sion­ally in­ter­est­ing The De­bate pro­gramme – waded into the ar­gu­ment when asked about the New­cas­tle takeover ru­mours.

“New­cas­tle are a big club – in New­cas­tle,” he re­counted telling United’s for­mer own­ers.

The fact is its a point­less de­bate that misses the mark. Be­cause size isn’t just de­fined by suc­cess, crowd num­bers or money in the bank as Jor­dan seemeed to be im­ply­ing.

It is about things that can’t be ac­cu­rately mea­sured: fac­tors like his­tory and recog­nis­ing the im­por­tance of the club’s legacy in its city and its im­pact on the sport.

Por­ing over the list of 38 names in the run­ning for United’s Great­est Ever Team you re­alise that for all New­cas­tle is a club of la­tent, un­ful­filled po­ten­tial – which will al­ways leave them open to the ac­cu­sa­tions of ir­ri­tants – it is a club where the cur­rent play­ers are stand­ing on the shoul­ders of gi­ants.

For any club worth its salt, pick­ing a best ever XI should be a fiendishly tough job and it cer­tainly is at New­cas­tle.

There is great­ness on the short- list – in­deed there is qual­ity left be­hind – but here are my picks. THE pang of re­gret in Given’s voice when he spoke of not break­ing New­cas­tle’s all-time ap­pear­ance record spoke of a player who loved the club and was care­lessly dis­carded by Mike Ash­ley’s regime in a pe­riod where the de­cline that Ben­itez is try­ing to re­verse first started. Given was brave, gifted and in­flu­en­tial in the dress­ing room – a player whose pres­ence un­der­pinned some glo­ri­ous years at St James’ Park.

In a field crowded with bril­liance – he beats two FA Cup win­ning ‘keep­ers to the num­ber one jersey – Given is a de­served fron­trun­ner. THE temp­ta­tion is to pack the team full of play­ers who we have seen – either on screen or in per­son. But we have to pay due def­er­ence to those who served with dis­tinc­tion dur­ing an era when United reg­u­larly made fi­nals – and ac­tu­ally won a Euro­pean ti­tle, the Fairs Cup. More than 400 ap­pear­ances: he was the model of con­sis­tency and pro­fes­sion­al­ism at a time when New­cas­tle were one of the lead­ing lights in English foot­ball. IN foot­ball, ti­tles and medals are the hard cur­rency that are usu­ally used to de­fine great­ness. That’s not al­ways fair but in the case of McMichael it would ap­pear that he ticks both boxes: an FA Cup win­ner in 1952, the Belfast-born de­fender played more than 400 times for United in a pe­riod when they were at their best.

United may have had more bu­ca­neer­ing left-backs through­out the years, but few have reached his lev­els of con­sis­tency and bril­liance. Frank Clark can con­sider him­self un­lucky to have missed out. NO se­ri­ous con­ver­sa­tion about New­cas­tle’s best ever XI can be con­ducted with­out Mon­cur fea­tur­ing promi­nently. To pay him the ul­ti­mate com­pli­ment: he de­fended with the sort of class that would make him a nat­u­ral in the mod­ern era of ball-play­ing de­fend­ers. To top it all off, he was also an ex­cel­lent cap­tain and even in this team stacked with lead­ers he would have to be a con­tender to skip­per it. He is, of course, the last New­cas­tle player to get his hands on a ma­jor trophy – a fact that causes him con­sid­er­able heartache. THERE are so many great cen­tral de­fen­sive can­di­dates in this list. Fabri­cio Coloc­cini’s in­clu­sion may raise eye­brows but for four sea­sons he was peer­less: it was only dis­il­lu­sion at the club’s regime that soured a re­la­tion­ship with New­cas­tle’s fans that should have been ce­mented by lead­ing United to a fifth-placed fin­ish in 2012.

Bren­nan didn’t deal in maybes, though. Be­tween 1949 and 1951 United won FA Cups and fin­ished in the top four reg­u­larly: and Bren­nan, along with Jackie Mil­burn, was a big rea­son for that. There may not be a flashy high­lights reel but it’s dif­fi­cult to see past him for that rea­son. IT is in­cred­i­ble to think that Beard­s­ley so nearly missed the boat when it came to pro­fes­sional foot­ball. But it was a tes­ta­ment to his per­se­ver­ance and will-to-win that

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