Alan Shearer is to become Newcastle United's fourth manager this season after agreeing to take on the challenge of saving the club he used to captain from relegation.
The 38-year-old, a hero to the Magpies' fans for his exploits on the pitch, had long been tipped as a future manager of the club, but he could never have envisaged taking over in such difficult circumstances. Newcastle are currently third from bottom of the Premier League, two points adrift of Blackburn Rovers, his former team who currently occupy the last survival spot.
Shearer, who has no coaching experience, has just eight games to save the club from the financially calamitous consequences of relegation, and Chelsea's visit on Saturday means he could hardly have a tougher start to his rein.
Newcastle turned to Shearer as it became clear that, under caretaker-manager Chris Hughton, they were drifting towards disaster. Indeed, they are on a run of just one win in 12 league games.
Hughton had taken charge of the first team in February after Joe Kinnear, who was only appointed as an interim manager following the departure of Kevin Keegan in September, underwent a heart bypass. Kinnear has been unable to return to work, and Newcastle owner Mike Ashley decided he had to act to stop the rot.
That meant sending out an SOS to Shearer, despite the fact that Ashley has passed on previous opportunities to install the club's record all-time scorer in the dugout. The former England striker, who has mostly worked as a television pundit since hanging up his boots three years ago, had made it clear he wanted the job in January 2008, when Sam Allardyce was sacked.
He had also signalled that, subject to certain conditions, he would be prepared to take over when the second spell of Keegan, like Shearer a former Newcastle forward revered by the north-east side's fans, as manager ended in acrimony in September.
Despite reservations in some quarters about Shearer's lack of coaching experience, the news of his appointment was greeted with delight by the vast majority of Newcastle fans. Sir John Hall, the former chairman who was responsible for bringing Shearer to Newcastle in his playing days, backed him to succeed and said he should be appointed on a long-term basis.
"I would have preferred him to come back as long-term manager because I've always felt he was the only man at this moment in time who could manage Newcastle," Hall said. "He's the most dedicated professional I've ever known in my time in the game.
"Desperate measures, desperate times. There's a gap opening up at the bottom of the table and he'll galvanise all the fans - let's hope he galvanises the players. It's got to happen on the park. If it doesn't happen on the park we'll go down."
Hall believes Newcastle's fervent supporters will remain behind Shearer even if he fails to stave off relegation. "They have too high regard for Alan Shearer and they know he's coming in in very, very difficult circumstances," he said. "I'm certain no one would judge him on these eight games."
Former Newcastle and England winger Chris Waddle said: "Management's not like playing and Alan will find that out. They will have to do a lot of hard work in training and he's got to get the confidence and belief in the squad," Waddle told Setanta Sports.
"It's a good bit of public relations for (Newcastle owner) Mike Ashley because they have been getting criticised the last few weeks. We all knew when Kevin Keegan got the job it was him or Shearer. It didn't work for Kevin for whatever reason but if Alan can keep them up that'll be enough for the fans."