I CAN’T think of a player who has polarised Newcastle United fans in the last 30 years than more than Foluwashola Ameobi.
Cult hero. Enigma. Wasted talent. All these phrases have been used at some point to describe Newcastle United’s No23 – along with others a lot stronger!
He first burst on to the scene as a gangly 18-year-old, gaining instant approval from the Toon Army for his set-to with Dennis Wise on his debut back in 2000.
Since then, however, that relationship has had more ups and downs than even the stormiest of marriages.
And it appears that now a divorce is on the cards.
Log on to message boards or Twitter, listen to punters talking in the pubs, and you’ll see that Ameobi bore the brunt of fan criticism in the aftermath of Newcastle’s FA Cup exit at Brighton.
The derision isn’t new of course. For every Shola supporter who saw him as a valued member of the squad, there was a critic who thought he shouldn’t wear a black and white shirt again.
Only now, it appears the critics are outnumbering the supporters.
Patience with the local boy – if it hadn’t already – appears to have finally snapped.
One of Ameobi’s problems is that he is no longer a youngster with bags full of potential. He’s a 30-year-old man with almost 200 Toon starts under his belt, and another 128 substitute appearances.
He’s no longer the precocious, developing part of an attacking quartet that he was in his early career, biding his time alongside Alan Shearer, Craig Bellamy and Patrick Kluivert or Lomana LuaLua.
Ameobi has had his chances to nail down a first-team spot in the last 12 years. He’s shown flashes of brilliance, great goals, led the line with distinction at times and terrorised some of the best defenders in Europe.
But it never lasted. The highs were too often followed by lows.
And that’s what has frustrated fans. They’ve seen what the striker is capable of, but a lack of consistency has ensured he has scored 71 times in more than a decade.
To Ameobi’s eternal credit, and something fans may not always been aware of, is that he has regularly played through the pain barrier to help the club out.
When supporters shout and bawl at him for a perceived lack of effort, it’s often the case that he isn’t fully mobile, having agreed to put his body on the line to play for the club he grew up supporting as a boy after moving to Newcastle from Nigeria aged just four.
It is something manager after manager, from Sir Bobby Robson right through to Alan Pardew – who handed Ameobi a new two-year contract in the summer – have appreciated.
But it appears his body is now finally giving up on him. The highs are less frequent, the lows too regular.
And now there are new kids on the block. Senegal strike duo Demba Ba and Papiss Demba Cisse return from African Cup on Nations duty this week, maybe in time for the game at Blackburn on Wednesday.
If they’re not quite ready for selection, Ameobi may earn a stay of execution, but it is surely only a temporary one.