Depending on what papers you read or rumours you believe, Steve McClaren could be 2 games away from the sack at Newcastle United. The Magpies are in a far from reversible situation in 18th place, sitting in the relegation zone on goal difference only, but they are running out of games.
If there are discussions at board room level concerning McClaren’s future, then the decision of whether to sack or stick with the former England manager must be made immediately and not procrastinated upon.
Newcastle’s problems run far deeper than their under pressure manager, but complications at board room and executive level need to be put on the back burner until the summer – the focus right now has to be on Steve McClaren’s position.
Do Newcastle bring in a fresh face? A tactic that can quite often provide a shot in the arm for teams teetering on the edge. Or do they stick by a manager who is knee deep in a foundations first rebuild at St. James Park?
One of Newcastle’s major problems this season has been at centre half (hasn’t it always been thus?), where Fabricio Coloccini has been the only consistent selection – that alone should speak volumes. The Argentine skipper cannot be faulted for his loyalty and commitment to Newcastle, but he lacks the organizational and even inspirational qualities that you would want from a club captain. Most importantly, he too often provides the calamitous cause for the concession of goals.
Cast your mind back 7 years to the last time Newcastle were relegated from the Premier League. Can you remember which players made up their centre half pairing back then? It was the same duo that started in the 5-1 reverse at Chelsea at the weekend – Steven Taylor and Fabricio Coloccini. That screams of appalling planning and transfer management by successive managers and at boardroom level.
In other areas of the pitch, McClaren looks to have made some decent additions. The much vilified Mike Ashely backed McClaren to the tune of approximately £75m over the last couple of transfer windows, most of which looks to have been spent pretty wisely.
It’s important for the Newcastle board and fans to realise that McClaren has been at the club for less than year – it will take time for him to restructure and redevelop their squad. He has also had to contend with the influence of Newcastle’s Head of Recruitment Graham Carr, whose proclivity to shopping in France has started to look like one man’s attempt to enhance Anglo-Franco relations by buying half of the half decent players in Ligue One.
A couple of years ago, Carr said in an interview with l’Equipe:
“I love France and French players. If we’re recruiting them it’s because we’ve had a lot of fun and success working with Hatem Ben Arfa and Yohan Cabaye.”
It’s a policy that may have started well, but it has ultimately led to Newcastle’s squad being saddled with far more duds than studs. McClaren has been left with the unenviable task of marginalising and you’d imagine eventually selling a raft of failed French “projects” – players who were all championed by a close friend of Newcastle’s owner. That’s tricky terrain to navigate.
Elsewhere, the signings of Shelvey, Mbemba, Mitrovic and Townsend all look good value, while Wijnaldum looks a terrifically talented footballer, even if McClaren struggles to find a system that gets the absolute best out of the Dutchman.
In fact it’s tactically where McClaren has let himself down this season, which is surprising given his extensive experience.
Newcastle are often far too cavalier away from St. James Park, leaving their porous defence consistently exposed – they have the second worst defensive record in the league. Daryl Janmaat has been particularly poor defensively, repeatedly finding himself hopelessly out of position at right back, tackling with all the ferocity of an old woman testing the temperature of the bathwater with her big toe. An assist here and there at the other end isn’t enough to mask his deficiencies.
McClaren’s baffling tactical naivety is exasperated by his apparent inability to motivate Newcastle’s players, who seem so quick to throw in the towel when the going gets tough. That lack of fight might be a character defect that runs right through the entire squad, but it could just as easily be a result of McClaren’s influence or lack thereof.
And here we have the crux of the argument. Has McClaren’s relatively successful transfer business during his short tenure earn him the time he needs to drag Newcastle away from trouble, or is it time for the board to roll the dice and bring in someone who could better motivate the talent at their disposal?
David Moyes and Brendan Rodgers are two proven Premier League managers without clubs. It must be extremely tempting for the Newcastle board to act on their availability should they show any interest in replacing Steve McClaren. But as tempting as it would be to manage one of the Premier League’s sleeping giants, that temptation could be offset by the thought of working beneath a muddled and directionless upper management structure at Newcastle (Mike Ashley, Lee Charnley, Graham Carr et al).
Moyes and Rodgers could just as easily employ a “let’s wait and see” strategy when contemplating a Newcastle offer, and put any decision off until the summer, which would be a sensible way to approach things from their perspective. Any other prospective candidate might feel exactly the same way.
Newcastle’s remaining fixtures offer them every opportunity to clock up plenty of points, they face just 3 of the top 6 teams as things stand in their last 11 games.
That’s why I believe McClaren CAN keep them up and earn himself the chance to continue his largely positive work in the transfer market this summer. Sacking him now means a return to square one which would offer much more uncertainty rather than any guarantee of safety.
by Simon Winter