There’s never a dull moment at the Premier League’s worst-run club.
While Newcastle United fans may have got their wishes with the departure of their much-maligned manager Alan Pardew midway through last season, the way in which the Magpies subsequently tried their utmost to get relegated for the second time in six years under the disastrous caretaker reign of John Carver must have seen many among the Toon Army secretly wishing they had their Pardew back.
As it happened, Newcastle did stay up on the final day of the campaign, thanks largely to fan favourite and testicular cancer survivor Jonas Gutierrez – who was promptly informed second-hand via phone call that he would be released after seven years at St James’s Park. Carver was also given his marching orders after overseeing a pitiful three wins in 20 matches, before club owner Mike Ashley unveiled his new manager for the upcoming campaign: former England boss Steve McClaren.
Such relentless instability has become the norm at Newcastle under Ashley, and his promise that significant investment will be made in the squad this summer will likely have been taken with a great big heap of salt by the disillusioned Geordie nation.
The Newcastle manager’s job is the most noxious of poisoned chalices in English football, and McClaren faces a huge task to reverse the fortunes of a club that has had little to cheer about for close to a decade. So is he the right man for the role?
Firstly, there is no doubt that McClaren is an upgrade on Carver, who remained keen on taking up the position despite his abysmal record as caretaker. A quick look at Carver’s statistics show that he very much belongs among the backroom staff rather than in the managerial hotseat, whereas Steve McClaren – whilst also being highly regarded as a coach – has tasted success as the main man at club level.
His reputation took a battering when in charge of the England team that failed to qualify for Euro 2008, however the ‘Wally with the Brolly’ soon reminded us of his managerial abilities – and his readiness to take on unfancied and challenging roles – by leading Dutch side FC Twente to their first-ever Eredivisie title in 2010.
Ashley is allegedly determined to end Newcastle’s 46-year wait for a major trophy, with the Magpies not once progressing beyond the fourth round of the FA Cup under his ownership. If the businessman is serious about his claims – and it is admittedly hard to be anything but sceptical at this point – then he may have actually made a wise decision in appointing McClaren. The 54-year-old has an impressive record of guiding underdogs to the latter stages and even to glory in cup competitions, leading Middlesbrough to a League Cup win in 2004 and the final of the UEFA Cup in 2006.
Achieving a top-six finish would be optimistic for any incoming manager at St James’s Park, but if Newcastle fans are happy to settle for a comfortable league campaign and a serious cup run – which at this stage, they surely should – then the club could do a lot worse than Steve McClaren.
And yet, for as long as Mike Ashley remains at the club, there is always a possibility of disaster and disarray. The owner must put his words into action by endorsing significant strengthening of a team in desperate need of it.
McClaren can be the man to finally make the Toon Army sing; but without the resources, he may prove to be just another pawn in Ashley’s increasingly depressing game.