The Insider: January to say much about the balance of power at the region's biggest football clubs

MAN IN THE MIDDLE?: Uncertainty still surrounds the exact remit of Joe Kinnear's role at Newcastle United

MAN IN THE MIDDLE?: Uncertainty still surrounds the exact remit of Joe Kinnear's role at Newcastle United

First published in Sport

THE current transfer window should be instructive when it comes to assessing the ongoing power struggles at the region's three biggest clubs, all of whom are gradually adopting a managerial model featuring a variation on the director of football role.

At Newcastle United, there is still a great deal of uncertainty over Joe Kinnear's remit as director of football, and the amount of influence he has over Mike Ashley as he acts as a bridge between the owner and the club's manager, Alan Pardew.

Like Pardew, Kinnear is understood to favour the recruitment of older players with experience of the Premier League rather than loyally sticking to Ashley's preferred model of buying hungry more unproven, but cheaper, players from overseas.

Last summer's recruitment of Loic Remy was seen as something of a success for Kinnear, as he persuaded Ashley to shelve his previous refusal to countenance loan deals. The move worked, as Remy was Newcastle's most effective striker in the first half of the season.

However, the club's ongoing interest in Remy Cabella, a 23-year-old midfielder who is a favourite of Graham Carr, suggests the continental approach has not been rejected entirely.

At Sunderland, director of football Roberto De Fanti and chief scout Valentino Angeloni were almost exclusively responsible for the disastrous summer recruitment drive that saw 14 new players arrive at the Stadium of Light, many of whom have subsequently proved unable to cope with the demands of the Premier League.

Had Paolo Di Canio still been in charge, it would almost certainly have been business as usual, but the appointment of Gustavo Poyet has seen the dynamic change and Sunderland's new manager appears to have reclaimed some of the authority that was ceded under his predecessor.

The loan capture of Marcos Alonso is understood to have been a joint effort, but the fact that Poyet has been given the green light to pursue Liam Bridcutt and Will Buckley, players he knows very well from his time at Brighton, suggests that Black Cats owner Ellis Short has ordered De Fanti to take more of a back seat this month.

Over at Middlesbrough, while there is no formal director of football in place, the fact that Aitor Karanka was appointed as head coach says much about the direction in which the club is heading.

Agent Jorge Mendes and influential power-broker Peter Kenyon continue to have a major influence behind the scenes, and chairman Steve Gibson has been working closely with a number of other overseas figures to build relationships with clubs and agencies on the continent.

Since Karanka's appointment, it is also understood that Gary Gill is playing a much more pivotal role in terms of scouting and recruitment.

Boro will hope that Karanka's close personal relationship with Jose Mourinho opens the door to some potential loan signings from Chelsea, but when it comes to permanent additions in the next few windows, the head coach is unlikely to have too much of a say in proceedings.

**

WHEN Scott Borthwick made his England Test debut on Thursday evening, Durham's director of cricket, Geoff Cook, could reflect on yet another success for the club's remarkable academy.

Borthwick follows Paul Collingwood, Steve Harmison, Liam Plunkett, Graham Onions, Phil Mustard and Ben Stokes in playing international cricket since Durham achieved first-class status, with Boldon's Simon Brown also deserving a place on the list even though he spent a considerable amount of time at Northamptonshire before playing a solitary Test against Pakistan.

Having performed lengthy spells as both academy director and head coach, Cook deserves a huge amount of credit for Durham's success.

He won the Leading Light Award at last year's Northern Echo Local Heroes Awards, but there is a growing feeling that a more prestigious honour should be in the offing.

Given the massive impact he has made on cricket, and wider sport in general, in the North-East, shouldn't Cook be recognised with an MBE in the next honours list?

**

THE legendary Sid Waddell might have passed away, but the era of the Geordie darts commentator is not necessarily over.

The BBC broke new ground on New Year's Day when Five Live broadcast live coverage of the PDC World Darts Championship final from Alexandra Palace.

John Rawling was the main commentator, but the star of the show was widely hailed to be current darts player Paul Nicholson, who performed co-commentary duties.

Nicholson, who was born in Australia but who has spent most of his life in Newcastle, was massively popular as the broadcast proved a surprise hit. He will almost certainly be back if the BBC extend their coverage next year, and it would not be a surprise to see Sky taking an interest in his talents given the huge popularity of their darts coverage.

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