“The Sword of Damocles”, an allusion to the imminent and ever-present peril faced by those in positions of power.
Like Steve McClaren.
The sword hovers above him, as does the very presence of owner Mike Ashley who is able to let the sword drop at any given time. And time is in short supply on Tyneside.
McClaren seemed to to do rather well at Derby County. The Rams were heading for promotion, before their season fell apart. After topping the table earlier in the season, Derby’s form imploded and in 13 matches they won just two and completely missed the play-offs when all they needed was one more point. Derby suffered with injuries, but persistent links to Newcastle was thought to undermine McClaren’s work in the different black and white.
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In June 2015, McClaren was unveiled as manager and signed a three year deal. Expectation was high. An ex-England manager with success at Middlesbrough, Wolfsburg and FC Twente in Holland, McClaren was tasked with picking up Newcastle’s fortunes, which hadn’t been great. John Carver just about kept them from being relegated the previous season and up until then, the club really hadn’t achieved anything of note for a while.
To be honest, it didn’t look like changing, as the first eight games of the season provided not a single win until the Norwich game. At this point in time, McClaren’s Newcastle sit fourth from bottom, one point clear of Norwich and three points below Swansea in 16th. A goal difference of -18 makes unpleasant reading and of McClaren’s signings last summer only time will tell whether the latest recruits will make the required difference.
But this isn’t Newcastle. Many clubs proclaim to be a big club, but they are and football in general should want a strong, competitive Newcastle. All clubs can go back to glory days and star players, Newcastle United has a fantastic heritage and they should be a top 10 side.
Mike Ashley spoke out last summer and promised money and silverware. He kept his part of the bargain by spending over £75m in both transfer windows and sold players to the value of just over £2m. A net spend of just over £73m, and look where they are.
Were the January transfers panic buys? Possibly, but the steel added to the midfield by acquiring Shelvey was missing before and Townsend is a decent addition, but are they what Newcastle need? With players like Wijnaldum and Mitrovic joining at the beginning of the season, only the Dutchman seems to have adjusted to life in the Premier League.
For McClaren, he believes his team has played consistently well. The consistent part is right, but not in a positive way. McClaren said: “We’re going to places now with a consistency of performance, whereas before we were inconsistent. We’ve been unlucky. I’m more disappointed for the players because they’re fighting and showing attitude and endeavour.”
Newcastle’s huge fanbase and the numbers that turn up week in and week out don’t deserve it and with a trip to Chelsea this weekend, they need to start salvaging points because the trap door is there for a decent, much-loved club (unless you’re a Sunderland fan) and the chop awaits McClaren.
But maybe it isn’t all down to McClaren. Perhaps the problems lie much deeper and within those hallowed corridors of St James’ Park, but the management above McClaren won’t change anytime soon and maybe there’s more going on than meets the eye. For now, the buck stops with Steve.
If fortunes don’t improve by the end of March, will Ashley act to save his club from missing out on the millions next year? He is the man that can ultimately change Newcastle’s fate. McClaren wants everyone to judge him at the end of the season, but that could be in the Championship.
Time ticks by, remaining games diminish for a squad with ability and enough about them to avoid the drop.