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Sunday, April 22, 2007

Les Ferdinand Profile - His Love For Newcastle, His Interest in Managing

[Wish there was some re QPR, but nice that people at Newcastle feel about Les Ferdinand, in a similar way that people at QPR are do]

Ferdinand's still feeling at home - Apr 21 2007
By Paul Gilder, The Journal

His immediate ambitions might lie in motor racing, but football is still the sport Les Ferdinand knows best. Paul Gilder met the former Gallowgate favourite.

It was lunchtime on Thursday, and from his seat in the lavish first-floor bar at The Malmaison, a relaxed Les Ferdinand surveyed the panoramic scene that stretched out before him through gleaming glass.

Almost a decade has passed since the 40-year departed St James's Park, yet his surroundings were familiar. So vivid are the memories, so fond the thoughts, that looking at Newcastle's Quayside again felt like a homecoming for the likeable Londoner.

"As soon as I cross the Tyne Bridge, it feels like that," explained Ferdinand, who returned to Tyneside to speak at a dinner organised in his honour by the Sports Management Partnership at a football ground he graced for two memorable seasons.

"It's always nice to come back - it brings back such great memories and the people are always so welcoming. I like the warmth and the gratitude and the understanding that, when I was here, I did the best I could. It's nice that people still feel like this about me."

Few players have been more popular than Ferdinand in recent times for good reason. A man renowned for his unassuming nature and good humour scored 50 goals in 84 games for Newcastle, although when he considers his commendable career in the North-East, there are aspects to rue.

"When Alan Shearer was coming to the end last year, he said he had no regrets," said a man who remains close to his one-time team-mate - a colleague in a different sphere these days, with both having decided to lend their expertise to the BBC. "I wish I could say that about my time here, but I can't. The biggest regret in my career is that I didn't stay at Newcastle for longer than I did.

"The time I spent here was the best period in my career, I thoroughly enjoyed playing for the club, and I thoroughly enjoyed being in Newcastle. I had a great time, a great life, a great couple of years. It's just unfortunate that the time was so short."

When Ferdinand joined Tottenham in 1997, he was not alone in his regret. United supporters mourned his departure and whilst it is conjecture, had he spent more than one season in partnership with Shearer, the Gallowgate faithful might not still be awaiting their first silverware since 1969.

The pair were reunited - albeit in a limited fashion - during Shearer's spine-tingling testimonial last summer and the experience reminded Ferdinand that, while honours have proved elusive, passion remains intact on Tyneside.

"People talk about Old Trafford and the Emirates Stadium and both are great grounds but I always tell them `You go and experience St James's Park when it's jumping and you will realise it's a special place'," he said. "For me, it's the best stadium in the world, the best atmosphere and I loved playing there. Everyone supports the club and understands what it's all about. It gets under people's skin.

"I remember coming here with QPR and wondering what it would be like to run out at St James's week in, week out. I was fortunate enough to find out."

Newcastle supporters have had little to shout about this season but as Glenn Roeder's team prepare to host Chelsea, Ferdinand believes that could soon change. "This is where Chelsea's title challenge could end," he said. "I think Newcastle could beat them."

Ferdinand was at St James's Park last season to watch United overcome Jose Mourinho's men and, although broadcasting commitments mean he will be unable to attend tomorrow's match, he will monitor events from afar. Of particular interest will be Roeder's striking selection.

Michael Owen will not feature, although the 27-year-old is nearing full fitness and could make his comeback at Reading on April 30. Having experienced the extent to which Newcastle supporters celebrate goalscorers, Ferdinand knows Owen will be relishing his return, although he has urged caution.

"I just hope people don't expect him to be banging in goals from his first game back," he said. "He might do that. If he does, that's all well and good. But he might need time to readjust to playing in the Premiership, it might take him a while to get back to his best.

"Michael's a goalscorer and that's what he will want to do. He has had a glimpse of what Alan achieved last season and from that he will understand what this club is all about. He will be relishing it. He will understand what it means to be a Newcastle player and to score goals here, and he will be looking forward to it. But I fear for him a bit. People must give him time."

In Owen's absence, Obafemi Martins has shouldered the burden alone. The Nigerian's performances have been mixed, although 17 goals is an encouraging return from a player in his first season in the Premiership.

"I think he struggled to wear the number nine shirt at the beginning," said Ferdinand. "That would be a big burden for any player after what Alan achieved in it, but I think he has got over that. He's a different player to Alan.

"People were used to seeing Alan up there, putting himself about, and Martins is not that player. But he can put the ball in the net from the most amazing positions, and he has scored some amazing goals.

"It has taken people time to realise that and understand it but he has shown what he can do and he's still young. I think he will be a great acquisition."

Like Shearer, Ferdinand is a man with managerial ambitions. He has just completed a League Managers' Association course and is preparing to start his coaching badges. "It's something I'm looking at - I just have to hope I have a name big enough to help me get a job somewhere when the time comes," he said. "I've enjoyed the BBC work and it has kept me involved in football from a distance. I didn't want to jump straight back in. But I'm starting to get the itch again."

The suggestion that a Ferdinand-Shearer double act would be a formidable one brings the trademark smile. Teamwork will be a vital ingredient in Ferdinand's next sporting venture, although football will not feature.

A man addicted to speed - Ferdinand flies helicopters in his spare time - he will take part in next year's Le Mans 24-hour race, driving in a team that will also include John Barnes and Luther Blissett. Team Windrush, the event's first all-black outfit, will commemorate the UK landing of immigrants from Jamaica almost 60 years ago but, although he is relishing the challenge, a man with his sights fixed on a future in football is not planning to make motorsport a new career.

"It will be a challenge, but when you come out of football, that's what you need, you're always looking for challenges," he added. "It's strange when you stop playing. Football has been your life for 20 years or more but it stops and you're twiddling your thumbs and getting under your wife's feet.

"I'm looking forward to it but I'm also looking forward to getting back into football." IC Newcastle

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