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The Number 9 - Who Wore It Best?

A look at Newcastle's Premier League number nines and how they've fared in the famous shirt.

I recall as a mid-90s child becoming aware of the significance the number nine held with Newcastle United fans and players alike.

Initially witnessing a succession of superstars honouring the famous digit, times - and goals - became a wee bit leaner following Alan Shearer's retirement in 2006.

Here's a snapshot of the number nines I've been privileged (and cursed) to witness in my time as a fan.

All games and goals listed apply only to Premier League appearances and goals while wearing the shirt. - hence no goals from the Championship or for Wilson/Ferdinand/Joelinton/Carroll while wearing different numbers.

Andy Cole (1993-95)

Premier League: 58 games, 43 goals

‘Cole the goal’ arrived from Bristol City for £1.75m at the tail end of the 1992-93 promotion campaign.

Netting a dozen goals in as many games ensured he immediately endeared himself to the Geordie faithful.

Having been sold by boyhood club Arsenal as he approached his 21st birthday, question marks remained over whether the jet-heeled hitman could repeat his impressive feat in the top flight.

He answered any sceptics by forming a mesmeric partnership with Peter Beardsley, as Newcastle took the league by storm, finishing third, with Cole notching a ludicrous 34 league goals - a record (shared with Alan Shearer) which was finally surpassed by Erling Haaland's 36 strikes last term.

He also scored a club record 41 goals in all competitions during the campaign.

The following season began in the same vein, although the goals did dry up for a handful of matches before he was shockingly sold to title rivals Manchester United for £6.25m plus Keith Gillespie, with the Toon opting to leave the number nine vacant until the end of the season.

Overall: 9/10

An incredible signing, whose departure had fans lined up outside the club’s doors in protest.

Les Ferdinand (1995-96)

Premier League: 37 games, 25 goals

Eventually a new talisman was signed to replace Cole, and a very good one at that.

From the moment ‘Sir’ Les Ferdinand struck a well-taken debut goal against Coventry City, he was adored by fans on the terraces.

A £6m signing from QPR, Ferdy’s almost telepathic partnership with David Ginola and clever link play with Beardsley meant he had 20 goals in all competitions by Christmas in his only season as the number nine.

As the team began to struggle, so the goals dried up for the side’s main striker, who managed only nine more by the campaign’s curtain call.

Still, he won the PFA Player of the Year award as Kevin Keegan’s side let a twelve-point lead slip to finish as runners-up.

That summer, in an unusual move, Ferdinand was asked to vacate the shirt and take the number ten instead, a request to which he (begrudgingly) complied.

Overall: 9/10

In his sole season as the number nine Sir Les was a dynamic force to be reckoned with.

Alan Shearer (1996-2006)

Premier League: 303 games, 148 goals

Shearer was one of the few players worthy of usurping the beloved Ferdinand as number 9.

The most exciting striker in Europe came home for a world record fee of £15m, winning the Premier League golden boot in his inaugural campaign in black and white (31 matches, 25 goals), before injury struck in a pre-season match at Goodison Park the following summer.

Shearer returned prematurely to aid an unforeseen relegation dogfight under the pragmatic Kenny Dalglish, initially playing from memory in a team now shorn of the creative talents of Ferdinand, Ginola, Beardsley and Tino Asprilla.

FA Cup goals came easily enough, but the for the next 18 months Shearer’s league form dried up.

Worse still, the newly appointed Ruud Gullit didn’t fancy him as a player, benching him for the miserable Tyne-Wear derby defeat in 1999.

Fortunately for Al and Newcastle, Sir Bobby Robson soon replaced the Dutchman and saved the Toon career of the England captain, who scored a PL record equalling five goals in the veteran manager’s first home game at the helm.

Fittingly, Shearer’s final goal was against the Mackems.

Overall: 9.5/10

There were highs and lows, but Shearer is quite rightly the benchmark for modern day Newcastle United number nines.

Obafemi Martins (2006-09)

Premier League: 88 games, 28 goals

With the original plan of ‘promoting’ Michael Owen to the number nine shirt scuppered by an anterior cruciate ligament suffered by the club’s record signing at the 2006 World Cup, Glenn Roeder decided to award the honour to new £10m recruit, Obafemi Martins.

It didn’t start well, as the Nigerian took time to settle after his transfer from Inter Milan.

There were also constant questions about his age, with some claiming the diminutive front man was as much as seven years older than his claimed age of 21!

The shackles were broken with a first league goal at West Ham and some sparkling displays in Europe.

Three seasons of erratic displays followed his arrival, punctuated by breath-taking goals and a habit of taking shots from ridiculous positions.

In Oba’s final season on Tyneside, the club was relegated, with the high profile trio of Martins, Owen and Mark Viduka all lacking aptitude in the face of adversity.

Unsurprisingly, all three departed soon after, with Martins the only one fetching a fee (around £9m) as he headed to the Bundesliga with Wolfsburg.

Overall: 6/10

Moments of magic were diluted by regularly indifferent showings and the club’s relegation in his final season.

Andy Carroll (2010-11)

Premier League: 19 games, 11 goals

Chris Hughton had chosen not to assign the number nine shirt to anyone during the 2009-10 promotion campaign, instead urging the candidates to prove worthy of the honour.

Carroll was the man who most impressed, thriving in the Championship after a sluggish start, to end with 17 league goals in English football’s second tier.

A sublime hat-trick against Aston Villa in the Toon’s first home match back among the elite cemented Carroll as a worthy recipient.

Sparkling form continued, as the local lad struck 11 Premier League goals before Christmas, including a fantastic 25-yarder against Liverpool.

That might have been the decisive factor in former Toon boss Dalglish’s uncharacteristically risky pursuit of the 6 foot 4 inch attacker, with the eventual fee of just over £35m weighing heavy on the relatively unproven 22 year-old.

A career of fluctuating highs and lows - but mainly middles - saw big Andy return to Newcastle in 2019, aged 30, but this time sans number nine, without pace and just one goal in 43 matches under Steve Bruce.

Fans felt misled, having assumed the 'immobile' striker set to sign for the club was Italian star Ciro from Lazio rather than a broken down Carroll.

The large fee received from Liverpool (which included a 25% sell-on) has long been championed as one of the greatest sales in the history of English football.

Overall: 6/10

While he wore number nine in black and white he was electric, sadly that provided only a fleeting glimpse of potential, which was rarely repeated.

Papiss Demba Cisse (2012-16)

Premier League: 117 games, 37 goals

Another year passed before the number nine slot was filled again, with summer signing Demba Ba opting to take '19'.

Senegalese compatriot Cisse arrived mid-season for £9.5m from Freiburg, having lit up the Bundesliga in a fairly poor side and snubbing Martin O’Neill’s Sunderland in the process.

If that ingratiated the 26 year-old forward with his new supporters, what followed trumped it.

A dazzling 13 goals were struck during an inaugural 12-match burst, most of the finishes howitzers or conjured from instinctive brilliance.

Ba, though, was far from happy according to one of his many agents.

In order to accommodate the new man’s arrival, the original 'Demba' had played in a wide-left position, drawing a blank in his final 14 league outings of the season.

With Ba reinstated to a central position the following season, Cisse was now the one pushed wider, stifling the previously prolific forward, who managed a paltry 10 league goals in 62 appearances that followed.

A brief renaissance saw him hit double figures in his penultimate campaign at the club, but he never again scaled the heights of his initial flurry and his final season was relegation tainted , with only three further strikes to his name.

Overall: 6/10

More than a flash in the pan, but Cisse's stock was never as high following the initial blitz which appeared so boundless.

Dwight Gayle (2017-18)

Premier League: 35 games, 6 goals

Gayle was signed from Crystal Palace for £10m in 2016 to spearhead the club's promotion campaign.

Excelling in the second-tier, the pacey forward hit 23 goals in just 32 Championship outings, securing promotion upon which the story should have ended abruptly.

Summer offers to recoup the £10m outlay were reportedly rebuffed and Gayle retained the number nine shirt for a single season in the top flight, barely causing a ripple and seemingly ageing by about a decade in the space of a few months (see top right compared to bottom right in pic above).

His goals rarely proved fruitful - only four points plundered from the five matches in which he scored - while he looked too brittle to hack it among the elite.

The following season saw him loaned to West Brom, where he again flourished at a lower level, but Gayle somehow dragged out a six-year Magpies tenure, with the club continuing to pay most of his wages for a year AFTER his departure to Stoke City in 2022 - a baffling hangover from Mike Ashley's joyless tenure.

Overall: 4/10

Based solely upon his only season as our top-flight number nine, Gayle was fairly dismal.

Salomon Rondon (2018-19)

Premier League: 32 games, 11 goals

A close season trade saw the fragile Gayle temporarily traded for West Brom behemoth Salomon Rondon, in a move which benefitted both clubs.

Rondon came to life with a brace against Bournemouth and proved a reliable talisman for the rest of the campaign.

A partnership with Ayoze Perez saw the pair bag an impressive 23 Premier League goals between them (picture a Temu version of Shearer/Ferdinand) and ensured the club didn't dabble with the drop.

Manager Rafa Benitez was keen to make the move permanent by meeting Rondon's Baggies release of £16.5m, but owner Mike Ashley was less convinced by the 29 year-old, and the Venezuelan headed to China for enormous wages instead.

Overall: 6/10

Rondon was a decent upgrade on Dwight Gayle and formed a nice partnership with Ayoze Perez.

Joelinton (2019-21)

Premier League: 69 games, 6 goals

With Perez and Mitrovic sold for a combined £57m across two transfer windows, and Rondon not retained, Newcastle took the plunge and signed 22-year-old Brazilian Joelinton Cassio Apolnario de Lira for a hefty £40m from Hoffenheim in the Bundesliga.

Smashing the club's long-standing transfer record - Michael Owen's £16.8m move from Real Madrid in 2005 - Joelinton was brought in as a striker, despite rarely featuring there during his career to date.

A superb winning goal against Spurs in just his third match for the club raised expectation, but the future 'J7' struggled to build on that promise with just one more strike in his next 35 league appearances.

Often paired with Callum Wilson the following season, he proved a little more effective by doubling his seasonal PL tally from two to four.

It wasn't until Eddie Howe moved him further back that the South American powerhouse flourished, but he'd lost the number nine to Wilson by then, becoming a bombastic central midfield maestro at the heart of Newcastle's recent success.

But - for the purposes of this article - as a number nine he was diabolical.

Overall: 1/10

Played out of position, Joelinton was never cut out for the central striker role.

Callum Wilson (2021 - present)

Premier League: 67 games, 34 goals

A £20m recruit from relegated Bournemouth, Wilson initially took the same number 13 which he'd worn for The Cherries.

Following Joelinton's struggles, it was decided Callum would step into the main goalscoring role for 2021-22, something he did with aplomb despite the defensive set-up of the side under Steve Bruce.

But for injuries he would certainly have hit far more than his 34 top tier strikes since taking the reins, his goals having come at better than one every other game despite many appearances being curtailed prematurely or late introductions from the bench.

The current number nine continues to be a prolific scorer despite continued spells on the treatment table, although the popular forward may have to accept a role as a squad player if he is to stay on Tyneside beyond this season, with Aleksander Isak now flourishing.

One goal away from equalling Peter Beardsley as the club's second highest Premier League scorer of all-time (Wilson has 46 in total heading into the Burnley match - some way behind Shearer's 148 in black and white).

Overall: 7/10

Despite his exceptional strike rate and popularity with fans, there is a tinge of regret - but for injuries Wilson could have been one of the club's greatest forwards of all-time.

Tony C

1 Comment

has to be shearer for me thou andy cole is close second

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