A new dawn?

A summer, which according to Mike Ashley, will not be devoid of activity at Newcastle United began on Tuesday with the news that interim manager John Carver and assistant, Steve Stone had left the club. Former England manager Steve McClaren was confirmed as new Head coach (not manager, but we’ll come to that later) on Wednesday. Rumours his geordie accent is already almost as broad of Paul Gascoigne’s have yet to be confirmed.

The jury is very much out on whether this is a step forward for the club with this appointment. Similar to the reception that greeted Alan Pardew (who was relegated with Charlton Athletic), many will point to two of Mclaren’s most notable failures. Namely, those at Wolfsburg (a win percentage of just 29%) and Nottingham Forest (23% win percentage). It’s a simple statement of fact that all managerial appointments are a risk and that the vast majority of managers have failures. Brian Clough was sacked by Leeds United after just 44 days. Alex Ferguson came very close to dismissal at Manchester United in 1989. To some of our fans it seems anything Less than Jose Mourinho is a failure.

A quick glance at various fans forums and many are lambasting our new boss for his comment about Newcastle striving to be back among ‘europe’s elite’. This veneer of hypocrisy reigns true amongst many of our fans. If McClaren had been much more measured in his remarks, he would have been lambasted for the apparent lack of ambition that has been symptomatic of the Ashley reign. McClaren has achieved much success. He brought Middlesbrough to league cup glory in 2004 (still the club’s only major trophy to date) and the 2008 Uefa cup final. He won the Dutch league title with Twente (the club’s only league title ever to date). Both no mean feats with limited resources. It is important to note that at Middlesbrough, McClaren has a very supportive chairman in Steve Gibson to rely upon during more testing times.

I notice the former ‘Pardew Out’ brigade all but vanished once the glaringly obvious inadequacy of John Carver became apparent. Ludicrously, many have now tried to claim they only wanted Pardew to depart on the assumption that Carver was not to be the replacement. This is simply not true and sadly indicative of the ‘what do want? We don’t know! When do we want it? NOW!?’ megaphone shouting, union picket line mentality of many of our supporters. Whilst their passion and unconditional love for the club is to be commended, it must be directed into causes that have the potential to drive real change for our club (the boycotts for example).

Some of the delusional and idealistic visions are beyond all proportionality and realism. Older observers will point to times past when the club was in much a similar position (See the Gordon McKeag years). Yes, Kevin Keegan wowed us all and surpassed our wildest expectations of achievement, but it is highly unlikely any manager could replicate this under the current regime. Wouldn’t we all kill for a 5th place finish now? (Didn’t someone achieve that for us not so long ago?). The question is, and always will be, what manager better than Pardew, and now Mclaren, would have realistically worked under a demonstrably unreliable dictator such as Mike Ashley?

This same question can also be applied to Mike Ashley. Do we really want anything but Ashley? Remember the profligate waste that went on under Freddy Shepherd. A man who ‘bleeds black and white blood’ paid himself a handsome salary, all the while sneering at fans who bought replica shirts, to bring the club the brink of total financial oblivion.

One thinks of the plight of Leeds United, the most stark example in english football of how over ambition and lack of financial prudence can have dire and far reaching consequences for a football club. The hated Ken Bates discarded, fans expectations rocketed with the takeover firstly by GFH finance then later by Massimo Cellino. 12 months and 4 managers since Cellino’s arrival, the club is arguably in a much worse position now than when Bates left, marooned in the second tier of english football indefinitely it seems.

The size of the club and passion of the fans is not enough to woo would be managers in the modern climate. Ultimately, when it comes to enticing new managers, it breaks down to three key facets. 1). To what extent will the manager have control of transfers and 2). What level of funds will be available and 3). What wage ceiling, if any, is in place? In the case of Newcastle, there exists a transfer committee, which has reasonable success in the last few years. Many managers in our recent past, for example Graeme Souness and Sam Allardyce, proved utterly incompetent when given a free reign on transfers. But then again, it was dennis wise to gave us Xisco and Ignacio Gonzalez…..

Another accusation frequently levelled at Newcastle, and by implication its owner, is that we are unique in being a ‘selling’ club. This is fairly cliched view. The fact is, outside of Real Madrid, Barcelona, Chelsea and possibly the two Manchester Clubs, all clubs are ultimately selling clubs. Look at the players arsenal have sold over the years, Viera, Henry, Llundberg, Overmars, Fabregas, Van Persie to name,but a few , were sold. These franchises have the finance to buy players from us due to their massive financial clout. Manchester City are backed by sovereign state for goodness sake. This leads on to managers being accused of being ‘Yes’ men. Mike Ashley is their boss and their working under conditions they agreed to. As anyone to has worked in a stressful environment will testify, constantly raising points of grievance with your boss soons ends with a letter in the post entitled ‘P45’.

All that said, there is a glimmer of hope amidst the abyss. To their credit, the Pardew Out/Ashley Out/Get me out crew have became organised and mobilised with the boycott of games being very visibly successful at the end of last season. The season ticket renewals will tell a lot as to its success or failure. It is 48 years to the day since the Fairs Cup win of 1969. Here’s hoping McClaren can change that. Let’s at least give him a chance, he can hardly do worse than Carver.


Pulling on the green jersey?


Silly season is really upon us in newsrooms across the various media outlets. The more sensational elements of the media in this country have really gone into overdrive this week in the wake of the news that the Football Association of Ireland (FAI) accepted a five million euro payment from the game’s governing body, FIFA, in the wake of the now infamous Thierry Henry handball incident during a 2009 world cup qualifier. This of course after the arrests of various FIFA officials the previous week on alleged historic corruption allegations, and the resignation of Sepp Blatter in the firestorm that ensued.

Words synonymous with our ever splendid politicians such as ‘corruption’ and ‘bribe’ were screamed and bleated at almost every opportunity in both the broadsheets and the tabloids.  The premise being that FIFA bought the FAI’s supposed cowardly silence instead of having the indignity of a legal challenge being mounted in the wake of what was a fairly grotesque injustice. The notion that any court would have seriously taken such as challenge is self-evidently a nonsense. If that logic were to prevail, England could conceivably do the same over the Diego Maradona ‘Hand of God’ against them during the 1986 world cup. Some would argue Henry was karma for Ireland fans using that as a source of ridicule for our cross channel cousins.

Whilst we can level many accusations at the FAI as regards their own shortcomings, the handling of the Roy Keane Saipan affair,  a total complacency in regards the disintegration of the domestic league, it has to be said they really got the best possible deal for Ireland. It was a catch 22 for the association. If Ireland’s case had not been pushed, the FAI would have been accused of timid surrender. As it turned out, they pushed enough to obtain a sum of money equivalent to the amount we would have received for qualifying. Whilst I’m not trying to suggest money should ever override the spirit of fair play and sportsmanship that game should itself encompass. The embarrassing and hasty proposal for us to be a 33rd team in WC 2010 (‘Please Mr.Blatter, we’ll bring our own balls’) was most likely a ploy to scare FIFA, and it worked a treat.

The almost relentless badgering of John Delaney over this matter stinks of lazy journalism and another stark example of the mainstream media’s innate and unwithering ability to attempt to whip up hysteria over total non issues. The only goal being to sell papers. The FAI is an old reliable and easy target due to their well known unpopularity with the general public, similar to Irish water among others. Did these same journalists go after olympic gold medal winning swimmer Michelle Smith after her well publicised suspicious doping tests? No, for the simple reason she was a national treasure (and you question them at your peril), a status John Delaney will never occupy. It’s not as if he pocketed the money himself, for once the money was used for a noble footballing cause, something to be commended amidst the seemingly never ending spiral of money blighting our beautiful game.

The money, according the FAI, was used for the new Lansdowne Road stadium. The question is not that the role of sports journalists is to hold people in positions of power and influence within the game to account. But more so is the game being done a disservice by attempting to use cheap populism to appeal to football fans emotional side for profit driven ends? Only time will tell on that.Whilst John Delaney is not a herculean footballing colossus and a bastion of all that is holy and virtuous, he deserves credit on this one. This is really all just a storm in a teacup, but a welcome interlude from a summer of inevitable ridiculous transfer rumours.

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