What will Steve McClaren bring to the St James' Park party?
We all know about Steve McClaren – the brolly guy, the speaking English with a Dutch accent guy but he’s also the guy who achieved considerable success at Middlesborough, the guy who took FC Twente to their first ever Eredivisie title, the guy who coached Manchester United to the treble and the guy who so nearly steered Derby County to the Premier League. The big question is, which Steve McClaren will rock up at St. James’ Park?
Since that unhappy time fending off aggressive raindrops at Wembley back in 2007, Steve McClaren has picked himself up, dusted himself off, got covered once again in dust and various other assorted bugs, scraped them all off, walked into a wasp nest, fought most of the blighters off only to go and stand on an upturned rake before ambling into a fishermen’s net.
Maybe that needs qualifying.
Let’s pick up the pace after the England job and the Croatia debacle when McClaren hopped it to Holland to take charge of FC Twente – he only went and led them to their first league title in 2010. A spell as the first Englishman to take charge of a German club followed with Wolfsburg but he lasted only nine months before receiving the boot in February 2011. From there he rocked up in Nottingham, promptly signed George Boateng, Ishmael Miller, Jonathon Greening, Matt Derbyshire and Andy Reid for Forest but lasted all of ten games before resigning after a Munchian home loss to Birmingham City – reportedly unhappy about restrictions preventing him making further loan signings. Of those signings above, only Reid can be said to be a successful one.
No matter, FC Twente took him back but it wasn’t the same – it never is. After a 6th place finish, he resigned after growing discontent amongst the fans. Then it was back to the coaching, putting out the cones for Harry Redknapp at QPR before trying his hand once again as the guy who watched the coach put out the cones as Derby County came calling following Nigel Clough’s sacking in September 2013 after only three months at Loftus Road.
While in charge of Derby, he got the team back on its collective feet and brought out the best in players such as Craig Bryson, Jeff Hendrick, Will Hughes and Chris Martin. They played energetic, high tempo football, flooding the midfield and breaking quickly. Derby were the recipient of covetous glances from many as they oh so nearly won promotion in the play-offs only to fall foul to an undeserved last minute winner from Bobby Zamora against, of course, QPR. Nonetheless, Derby were in a good position to challenge again and started the following season in determined mood to avoid play-off defeat. They sort of achieved this (avoiding more-play-off misery, that is) by finishing the season like an All Terrain Armored Transport (AT-AT) after being tripped by a piece of cheese cutting wire, stumbling around wondering what the heck has gone wrong.
Indeed, some Derby fans feel that McClaren rather blotted his copy book and failed to keep his powder dry as he did little to put an end to the constant speculation linking him with the Newcastle job while his Derby team imploded.
So, a dizzying combination of success and underachievement characterises his managerial career since taking the reigns of the England team. If truth be told, more underachievement than success. However, McClaren is arguably a coach by trade, highly regarded my those he’s worked with and lest we forget, forged his reputation under Sir Alex Ferguson as coach to the treble winning side of 1999.
The plaudits for his craft are many: “Steve McClaren was one of the best coaches I’ve worked for and I think he was unlucky,” gushed Phil Neville and George Boateng is equally complimentary: “His coaching was amazing. He would do sessions that made you think twice, rather than go through the motions, without engaging your brain.”
But his role at St James’ Park is more than setting the cones out. He’s under no illusions regarding what is expected from him: “Believe me, every manager would say they want to build this exciting team that attacks all the time and scores goals. Ultimately though, you want to build a team that wins.
“My team should always have attitude, always have fight, always play football and always play with a certain style and flair because I think that’s what Newcastle demands. They should always play attacking football. But ultimately, you know, it’s about the result,” he told the Newcastle Chronicle, seemingly fully aware that if he doesn’t bring home the bacon in the form of points on the board, he’ll be asked to pack his belongings into a sad brown box and take a walk.
The club’s owner, Mike Ashley has backed him in the transfer market, handing over the reddies to bring in attacking midfielder Georginio Wijnaldum from PSV Eindhoven, striker Aleksander Mitrovic and defender Chancel Mbemba, both from Anderlecht at a total cost of £35.5m. For a club used to bringing in under the radar raw diamonds from France, this is almost a sea change and reminiscent of previous boom eras up at St James’ Park.
McClaren also has youngsters Karl Darlow and Jamaal Lascelles already up there waiting for him after they were picked up a year ago for £5m but loaned straight back to Nottingham Forest for the season. Both are now Newcastle’s players and will be keen to impress the new boss. In all likelihood though, both will find themselves being loaned out to a Championship club again after an indifferent season for both at Forest last year. Darlow certainly has the potential to be an excellent keeper but he’ll have to develop a more commanding presence in his own box if he is to fulfill his undoubted potential. Lascelles showed huge promise as a youngster but seems to have lost the confidence and fearlessness of the young, playing hesitantly rather than intuitively and instinctively. His time may well come but he doesn’t seem ready yet to grapple with Matej Vydra, let alone Diego Costa.
The question remains too whether all of the trauma and turmoil of last season has been forgotten up at St James’ Park. It seemed a very unhappy place from January onwards (probably before then too) as the team only avoided relegation on the final day, helped in part by facing a beach-bound West Ham United. Indeed, there is already reported unrest on McClaren’s part about the club’s pre-season arrangements. After a 2-2 draw against Sheffield United in a friendly at Bramall Lane, McClaren seemed unhappy: “I think we got through it (without injuries), that was the main thing. This was always going to be a difficult game, two or three days after 11 days in America. Unfortunately, this is the schedule we had put before us and we have had to deal with it.”
Here lies the rub – will McClaren be left alone to get on with the job without having to contend with the constant buzz and white noise that comes with being Newcastle’s manager under Mike Ashley? The club has clambered into bed with Sky Sports and the Daily Mirror, eschewing all other press outlets. This is a daring move that rarely ends well.
So is McClaren equipped to deal with such trying circumstances? He should be – jobs don’t come much more trying than the England job and he surely learned an awful lot about himself while abroad. It is telling though that back in October 2012, he told The Observer, “ultimately, I’m a teacher, I’m a coach, and I like to coach players and I like to coach coaches.” Perhaps he would rather be left alone to coach players rather than deal with the shenanigans and rum goings on at a place like St. James’ Park.
On the one hand, his career trajectory suggests a manager who bails out when the going gets tough. Alternatively, here’s a manager that rather honorably leaves when he realises things aren’t quite going as they should be. Indisputably though, with the right conditions, McClaren has the skills and the track record to bring the good times back to St James’ Park – but conditions at Newcastle are currently anything but.
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