AFTER 54 years in football, 16 as player and 38 as manager, many think the time is right for Sir Bobby Robson to call it a day. There's one important man who disagrees with those sentiments and the 71-year-old knight has come out fighting on the season's eve.

He remains as enthusiastic as ever for the game he cherishes so dearly, but even he will struggle to persuade chairman Freddy Shepherd there'll still be plenty left in the tank come August 2005.

Whether Sir Bobby did or didn't know that May next year would mark the end of his near six year association with his beloved Magpies, the gloves are now firmly off.

"I'm not thinking about retiring," Robson said recently. "No way. As long as I can do this job I will do it." The unfortunate problem he faces is his chairman has decided he will no longer have 'this job' at the end of the upcoming season.

"Sir Bobby Robson's contract expires at the end of the season," said Shepherd. "We have no plans to extend that arrangement.

"Sir Bobby has given the club great service and we fervently hope he can bow out with a trophy. But this is his sixth season at the club and we have to look to the future."

What exactly that means for Robson is anyone's guess. The chances of him being unceremoniously dumped on the scrapheap appear remote.

If Robson still wants a job at St James' Park in a year's time - any job apart from manager that is - then no doubt Newcastle will be duty bound to either find him one, or create one for him.

Just how the fiercely proud son of County Durham miner will take to anything he sees remotely as pity is another question entirely, and don't discount Robson moving on to another club in England.

"I'm not going into this season thinking this will be my last," said the former England boss. "I like what I'm doing and feel fit. I'm as excited and positive as ever and I still have a bright and alert mind."

There's no doubt he still has ambitions and targets for the season ahead.

He aches for silverware as much as the fans that stood in the Leazes and Gallowgate in the 1970s through to the 1990s, and those that now sit in the Sir John Hall and North stands.

Therein lies the problem. If he fails to see his team lift a trophy this season then he will no doubt believe they can do it in his next.

"I still have ambitions and one of those burning ambitions is to bring silverware to Newcastle," he said.

If he is to do that then that must be in the next ten months. If he fails then he will join an illustrious list of nearly men.

Kevin Keegan, Kenny Dalglish, Ruud Gullitt, Joe Harvey and Gordon Lee have all stood on the threshold of that achievement but none has been able to prove they were anything but second best.

Second best to Liverpool in 1974, to Manchester City in 1976, to Manchester United in 1996, 1997 and 1998 and to Arsenal in 1999.

Newcastle have won nothing since 1969 and that monkey on their back is proving more than a minor distraction.

If Robson doesn't lift it then the likelihood is that either Alan Shearer or Steve Bruce will be handed the task.

If Robson is determined to land that trophy then there should be no under strength sides in the Carling Cup, and the Premiership may indeed have to play second fiddle to a tilt at the UEFA or FA Cups.

Robson knows he has the potential in his squad to go out from Newcastle on a high, but he has to realise that go out he must.

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