Newcastle boss Bobby Robson returned from Belgium to have the smile wiped from his face by fresh speculation over the future of Kieron Dyer.
Robson was a happy man on Saturday night as he saw his side cruise to 4-0 victory over Sporting Lokeren in the first leg of their third round tie in the much-maligned Intertoto Cup despite missing five of their first-choice 11.
However, he flew back to Britain to be greeted by new headlines as suggestions that Dyer is ready to quit the club he joined two years ago from Ipswich Town resurfaced.
It is frustrating for both manager and his chairman, Freddy Shepherd, that they have been unable to kill off talk of the England midfielder’s departure which has been in the air for months.
There is little doubt that the 22-year-old’s form before he finally succumbed to a painful shin injury which required surgery and a six-month lay-off, alerted a series of clubs both at home and abroad to his potential, but the Magpies have insisted all along that he is going nowhere.
While player power, coupled with the need to balance the books, means that it is often not the manager who has the ultimate say, Robson and Shepherd remain united in their determination to build their side around one of the most exciting talents in the domestic game.
Nevertheless, speculation that Leeds United, who have now replaced Manchester United at the head of the queue of those said to be chasing his signature, are ready to test Newcastle’s resolve with a £20million bid, refuses to die.
Dyer’s friendship with Leeds defender Rio Ferdinand is well-known, and the Yorkshire club are currently better placed to allow him to fulfil his dreams of winning trophies.
The player is not the only person to have expressed disappointment with Robson’s relative lack of success in recruiting big-name stars on the transfer market during the summer, but he has already been reminded of where his loyalties should lie in another frank discussion with his manager.
Robson, who last year took his prize asset aside to warn him about his lifestyle, has done the same once again following his conviction for speeding and the latest bout of rumours.
‘‘I’ve had a chat with Kieron, partly over the speeding thing and partly concerning all this talk about him going to Leeds,’’ Robson said.
‘‘I said to Kieron, ‘We’ve looked after you and paid your salary for six months when you’ve played no games for us, so you’ve got to get it into your head that your allegiance is to this club’.’’
Whether that kind of appeal is as effective today as it was in the more innocent days when Robson made his name as a manager at Ipswich remains to be seen, but what is certain is that he expects Dyer to be wearing a black and white shirt and playing his heart out within weeks.
The midfielder hopes to be given the go-ahead to step up his rehabilitation after an x-ray on his shinbone in a fortnight’s time, and then make a concerted bid to return to first-team action.
He may not have Champions League football to look forward to, but if his team-mates manage to pick up where they left off last night, the UEFA Cup could be on the horizon.
With no Dyer, Alan Shearer, Rob Lee, Clarence Acuna or Carl Cort, Newcastle made short work of setting up a semi-final clash with either Dutch side RKC Waalwijk or German outfit 1860 Munich.
A double from striker Shola Ameobi, ably assisted by debutant Craig Bellamy in attack, and further strikes from Wayne Quinn and Lomana Lua Lua, handed United a seemingly impregnable lead to take into their home clash with Lokeren on Saturday night.
Season tickets sales have not reached the levels they did last season for the newly-refurbished 52,000 capacity St James’ Park, and the stadium is unlikely to be anywhere near full next weekend, but the promise of genuine European competition may just give the club a little more impetus and persuade wavering fans that there is at least some cause for optimism.