At the beginning of the season Steve McClaren told the fans to judge him after 10 games. Following a poor start to the season he has revised that plea for judgement until the end of the season. Some would like to hold Steve to his initial words, so lets open the debate to the readers.
Newcastle United currently languish in 19th position in the English Premier League having won only 1 game from 10 and amassed a total of only 6 points from a possible 30. In terms of results, not much has changed since the awful run at the beginning of 2015. In fact, this whole year is pretty much a write off. To compound matters, we have just lost 3-0 at fierce rivals Sunderland, allowed them to leapfrog us in the league and handed them a record 6th straight league victory over us. All of this coming off the back of a 6-2 victory over Norwich City last week. Any confidence gained from that victory has now slipped way and we are back at square one it would seem.
A quick look around at the competition and it is clear that with a massive financial windfall coming to the Premiership next season, clubs are acting fast at the first hint of trouble. Tim Sherwood, Dick Advocaat and Brendan Rogers have all gone for one reason or another. The preceding 2 names of course were managers of the other 2 teams stuck in the relegation zone – with Newcastle United. So does McClaren deserve to have judgement held until the end of season, or will it be too late by then?
When McClaren signed on at the Toon, there were 5 things that he said that stood out to me. One) It will take 3 windows to get the squad to the level he needs to make it successful. Two) Judge him after 10 games. Three) The signing of Coloccini’s contract extension was the single most important signing this summer. Four) It is important that the club signs players of the right ‘character’. Five) From now on Cup Competitions will be taken seriously.
Now it could be argued that asking to be judged after 10 games at the same time as saying that it will take 3 windows (a year-and-a-half) to get the squad to the level he requires – is a bit of a contradiction. However one way to look at it is to not expect the finished article after 10 games, but to look for improvements. Now that is where things become difficult to quantify. There is no getting away from the cold hard fact that after said 10 games, the club is stuck in the relegation zone. However, there is no doubt that the standard of football has improved since the 2nd half of last season. We are retaining possession and moving away from the drab long ball and negative football that plagued us last season. The trouble is we have only scored 12 times and conceded 22. It’s no good keeping the ball if you don’t score and allow the opposition to hit the back of your net on such a consistent basis. We have failed to score in half of our games this season and only kept one clean sheet. So despite the prettier football, are we actually any more effective than last term? Are the building blocks beginning to appear or is it just a mirage?
This is where points 3 and 4 comes into play. After years of under spending, the club dished out £50 million in signings this summer. A lot of fans looked at those signings and said it’s a good start, but does not address the long standing massive problem of our defense lacking both quality and depth. We signed one very good central defender in Mbemba, but failed to offload Mike Williamson, Steven Taylor or Fabricio Coloccini and we also failed to get competition in for Daryl Janmaat. Williamson has not been top flight class for a long time. Taylor has been long term sick and was always going to become crocked again. Coloccini has had his day. This summer was the perfect opportunity to sell Coloccini to a willing buyer such as Crystal Palace and replace him with some proven talent in their prime. Somebody to take control of the line and lead it effectively. Question marks have long been held over Colo’s effectiveness as a leader of men and more recently of his ability. So why was his contract extended? It smacks of the board taking the cheap option yet again, but then McClaren did personally endorse the signing. So did he say those things because he had no choice and had to gather belief among the squad, or did he genuinely believe it was the right move? If he had no choice regarding Colo’s appointment, then why make him an undroppable Captain?
Now Mitrovic, Wijnaldum and Mbemba are all of apparent high caliber and will be successes at this club. They seem like good professionals with bags of quality and determination to be a success at this club. They seem to have the right ‘character’. However, are they McClarens signings or Carr’s long term targets? John Carver has since suggested they are nothing to do with McClaren and points out Florian Thauvin as a long term target. To some, Thauvin is not a player of the right ‘character’. His decision making is suspect, his heart questionable and he seems more interested in his appearance than his input on the pitch. It is of course early days and some players need time to adjust to the rigors of the Premier League, but at near £15m – how could Carr not see the obvious risks in this signing given his incredibly poor for for Marseille last season? What has the club learnt from the car crash that was Remy Cabella? It would be interesting to know just how much influence Steve McClaren had on these signings, especially Thauvin and Coloccini. If he sanctioned these signings above having a clear out and getting in some proven fresh blood, then he has a lot to account for. If he had no choice, then what can we realistically expect him to do with this squad at this stage?
McClaren has done a lot of talking and the impression some get is that from his apparent position on the board, he is calling the shots in equal measure to the likes of Carr and Charnley. If only we knew the truth. For the best part of 9 years now the fans have had to put up with poor transfer window after poor transfer window. Even after spending £50 million the obvious shortfall in defense was not addressed despite conceding the 2nd most in the entire league last season. How could any board worth their salt look at that and think the signing of a couple of 20-year-olds and the retaining of the the main influence (Coloccini) was ever going to solve such a huge problem?
Steve McClaren told us that Cups would be taken seriously. We then promptly got dumped out of the League Cup by a Sheffield Wednesday 2nd string side. There is no getting away from that one. Total fail on McClaren’s part.
If we were to judge McClaren on results alone, then the table does not lie and there is a strong argument for pulling the plug. However there are mitigating circumstances in that the playing style at least appears to be improving whilst the lack of transfer action in the required positions is indicative of the board’s long term failed strategy of buying potential and not addressing the ares actually required. The average age of our squad shows that we lack PL experience. Furthermore, only a handful of the squad can actually be regarded as effective at this level. Steve McClaren was perhaps being a tad ambitious claiming that 3 windows would be enough to turn this squad into contenders. However, if the club does not get it’s act together quickly then we may not have the luxury of tinkering with the playing staff as a PL team from next summer onward.
With a defense as calamitous as ours, would a new manager really be able to tighten the ship long enough to keep the club from slipping too far away until reinforcements can be shipped in after Christmas? Does McClaren have what it take to get enough results until then? It’s not an easy question. In terms of available managers out there there is true world class in the shape of Carlo Ancelloti, but can you see Mike Ashley being ambitious enough to reel somebody like him in? We know that the club will not pay compensation for a manager – so it has to be somebody from the dole queue. We have also never gone with foreigner at the helm under Ashley’s stewardship, so that probably rules the likes of Roberto Donadoni, Lucien Favre, Berndt Scuster or Victor Fernandez out. Meanwhile the likes of Tim Sherwood and Brendan Rogers have big question marks over them given their recent abject failures at Aston Villa and Liverpool respectively.
If it’s a manager we require to stem to bleeding at the back, then who is available and British that can actually do the job whilst ensuring we also score occasionally at the other end? Would unsettling a completely new coaching set up and training regime really be best for the players at this stage of the season? Would a new manager ultimately make any difference in the long run given that managers of the Toon apparently get no say on incomings or outgoings? Is it really a new manager that is required, or a complete change in the way the club is run? Under Mike Ashley we have only finished 10th or above twice. Clearly his current model is not a successful one. McClaren has made a rod for his own back if you look at some of the things he said during the summer, but any meaningful change to our run of results was never going to happen overnight. The question is, has he shown enough to justify holding onto his position?