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.