Shola Amoebi is certain Newcastle are in a better position to ward off relegation than they were in 2009. Chief sports writer Mark Douglas reports.
THE room falls silent when he says it. There is a black and white elephant in the room, and Shola Ameobi is not allowed to acknowledge it.
The Newcastle United striker has been asked whether the club’s current predicament is similar to the situation in 2009, when a calamitous campaign ended in a deserved demotion to the Championship.
It is a fair question which is justified by comparisons of the respective points tallies. United had 23 points after 22 games in their relegation season – they have 21 after 22 games this time around.
When it is put to him Ameobi – who played in both campaigns – challenges the idea the seasons are dove-tailing, pointing out to a disparity in character between the respective squads.
The striker says: “No, it is definitely not the same at all. Back then, there was a lot of discord.
“Last time, I remember thinking there were a lot of players who didn't really want to be here and that does not bode well for any team.”
On the back of that comment, interest increased. You can see collective eyebrows raising at the apparent inconsistency.
Ameobi carries on, but there is a point to come back to quickly.
He added: “The players we have here now have a better character and better temperament and hopefully that can really help us.
“In the last year or so, there have been a lot of games when we've been struggling but we've managed to pull out of the hat, which is really good from our point of view.
“It is important we have that sort of mentality in the second half of the season.”
It is worth pointing out that before the interview started, questions about Fabricio Coloccini were ruled out of bounds.
The reasons were understandable. Firstly, United want to prevent any embarrassment to the captain and club while they thrash out some sort of resolution to the unseemly saga which threatens to undermine Newcastle’s plans for the second half of the season.
Secondly, it is deemed unfair on Ameobi – an intelligent, thoughtful and engaging interviewee – to answer questions on such a contentious issue when so little information is out in the public.
The lack of meat on the bones of this saga has left supporters in the dark, but all parties seem to prefer it that way for now.
Still, there is a major inconsistency there.
We have insulated ourselves against comparisons between the class of 2009 and the current vintage with reassurances there is none of the dressing room discord which undermined efforts four years ago – yet Coloccini wants out.
Of course, Coloccini’s situation is different from the Michael Owen’s of this world, whose discontent was for professional reasons.
The skipper has a personal crisis to deal with, while Owen and company seemed to want to wash their hands of a situation which was of their own making. Still, it needs to be followed up.