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For sale!

Former Newcastle United and Sunderland player, Steve Harper, reflects on the news that his former clubs are up for sale

It’s official – two of the big North East football clubs are for sale. Sunderland has been for sale for a while after Ellis Short decided not to put in any more money in. Instead he is cutting his losses after a turbulent ten-year reign, while Mike Ashley has decided enough is enough…or has he?

After a period of trying to drum up interest, he’s finally decided to go public and has even dangled the carrot of a deferred payment option to facilitate a quick sale.

Newcastle United has been down this road on a few previous occasions and so its fans may be a little skeptical. This time, though, does feel slightly different.

The alarm bells really should have been ringing after a summer of limited transfer activity, alongside the rumour mill being full of attempts to push through a sale.

This was a risky strategy for a such an astute business brain – what if Newcastle had a poor start to the campaign, as many predicted, or what if Rafa Benitez had resigned or been poached by a bigger club?

As it happens, Rafa and his team have made a remarkable start and the Spaniard has got the maximum out of the players at his disposal. Fans can even start to dream of what might be achievable if he has access to vast riches following a takeover.

Sunderland, on the other hand, remains in a difficult predicament following its relegation from the Premier League.

Currently languishing near the foot of the Championship, only the recent signs of the club’s freefall beginning to slow will temper the anger of the long-suffering fans.

It will take a long time to turn Sunderland round, given the mis-management over the last decade. A takeover which brings in an ambitious owner with a well-planned structure and pathway back to a sustainable Premier League place would be very welcome on Wearside.

Meanwhile, Middlesbrough spent heavily in the summer to ‘smash’ the Championship, in the words of its owner Steve Gibson, but he’s yet to see any signs of that so far this season. The team must learn to win games when not playing well and get back to their defensive best as they have a bad habit of going behind in games. A run of clean sheets along with some ugly wins would breed the confidence needed to avert the pressure that will start to intensify on Garry Monk if he can’t get them up and running before Christmas.

It’s great to see my former colleague, Steve Watson, get his first managerial opportunity at another of my former clubs, Gateshead. ‘Watto’ has served his apprenticeship at Birmingham and more recently Macclesfield, and I’m sure all Newcastle fans will wish him every success at a club well set-up to get to the Football League after ‘knocking on the door’ for the last few seasons.

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