Lee Clark's future lies firmly on the playing fields of Colney, not back on the banks of the Tyne – that was Glenn Roeder's simple message this morning.
Or rather, it doesn't lie back at St James' Park just yet. When Clark does return, suggested Roeder, it would be as his own man; not as part of Kevin Keegan's much-debated entourage.
“I know Lee Clark,” said Roeder, as he embarked on a forceful effort to nip all the recent speculation in the bud.
“And I'm sure that if he had had an approach, he would have told me. We have a very open relationship; he knows me as a person; he knows how I would react; how I would be. And I didn't even have to touch the subject.
“He's here this morning and I expect him to be here at the end of the season.”
Yesterday and The Guardian's North-East correspondent Louise Taylor was putting two and two together and – not unreasonably – linking Chris Coleman's surprise resignation from Real Sociedad together with Keegan's pressing need for a new No2.
From there it was only a short leap of the imagination to install Clark as first team coach at St James' as the 'Fulham connection' put the three men together. And, of course, left no room at the inn for Alan Shearer, whose shadow looms large over all such discussions.
He and Keegan have not spoken, reportedly, for over a year. Shearer and Clark remain big friends; Clark was given his Magpies debut by Keegan; it is a complicated picture – one that Roeder tried to simplify this morning as Clark himself kept his own counsel and happily went about his business as usual at Colney.
The fact that Coleman himself revealed that he wasn't in a mood these days to be anyone's No2 further unravelled the Keegan-Coleman-Clark axis.
“Kevin is a man I respect but after five years as a No1 I'd be a poor No2,” said Coleman overnight.
Five or so years back down the managerial ladder and that was Roeder's thoughts about Clark's future; that the 35-year-old had moved on; his next step was to be his own No1, not someone else's No3. Tying your own flag to someone else's mast can be fraught with peril – especially in the hothouse world of Newcastle football.
“He (Clark) wants to be a manager one day – which is what I like,” said Roeder, a quality he has also seen in his own first team coach and fellow Geordie exile, Paul Stephenson.
“Lee has got that ambition and he's the assistant manager here at Norwich City,” added the City boss, well aware of the webs people weave in such circumstances.
“He's great friends with Alan Shearer and played for Kevin Keegan and obviously has huge admiration for Kevin. But I've told him – and I firmly believe this and am not just saying it to look after myself – but his dream is to manage Newcastle one day.
“To go back as a coach with Alan when he manages the club – which he will do – or go back as a first team coach under Kevin, that is not the route to become the manager of Newcastle one day.
“Because if either of those managers fail and are moved on, he will be moved on as well. You don't become the manager of Newcastle United as a failed coach in the backroom team. You go in on the back of managing somewhere else and doing well.”
It was a career plan and structure that the two men – Roeder and Clark – have clearly long debated. Already, it appeared, Roeder was doing his best to let Clark enjoy his new-found freedoms as a No2; to start making the kind of calls and contacts that continue to serve the City boss so well in his hunt for further loan talent in the tight confines of the January transfer market.
Besides, Keegan is not short of alternatives – real or imagined as the Press dine out on the latest soap opera chapter unfolding among the 'Geordie Nation'.
John Carver, coach under Ruud Gullit and Sir Bobby Robson and on the receiving end of Craig Bellamy's fury in an airport departure lounge, is one; Peter Beardsley another. Keegan's ex-Liverpool playing pal Terry McDermott appears certain to stay on as Sam Allardyce's huge backroom team prepare to pack their bags.
“He (Clark) can pick the telephone up to whoever he wants and any manager in the country would pick the phone up to Lee,” said Roeder.
“So he's on his learning curve. And I don't believe that if he goes back to Newcastle just in a coaching capacity he will have that kind of facility. To learn to be a manager which he will get here with me.
“And he knows that. He's an intelligent lad and we've spoken at great depth before Kevin went back to Newcastle about that subject and I certainly had the impression that he agreed with me – that if he is ever going to go back to Newcastle as the manager, he needs to go back in on the back of doing well as a manager somewhere else.”
Which is the answer he expects Keegan, Mike Ashley or whoever to receive – if they ever put a call in to the City No2.
“As much as he loves the club, that if Newcastle came a-calling in the coaching capacity that would be the answer I would expect him to give – to be flattered, but to refuse without hesitation because he's got his own goals; his own life plan.”
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