Yet another reign of turbulence, drama, and inconsistency was drawn to a close as Steve McClaren was sacked with immediate effect on Friday. McClaren, in his ten months in charge of the Magpies, spent lavishly on players that did not live up to the mark, suffered embarrassing results and by being relieved of his duties, simply underlines further the shambolic operational running of this once magnificent club.
In 1999, when Ruud Gullit quit the club and Sir Bobby Robson took charge, Newcastle began a period of sustained success, culminating in several title challenges, European adventures, and domestic cup contention. A hugely likeable figure on Tyneside, he represented a steadiness, an astute path of management. Whilst he won no trophies, he challenged for them, giving the fans cause for hope that this may be the foundations for long term challenges, with the potential for success.
But in 2007, Mike Ashley bought out longtime chairman Sir Freddy Shepherd. Though the initial sights of Ashley in the stands with the supporters, emblazoned in a Newcastle shirt, holding a pint, sat well with the clubs followers, a distinctly pessimistic approach to running the club brought Newcastle tumbling down the table. In 2009, under the stewardship of Alan Shearer, himself in no qualified or experienced position to keep the club up, the Magpies were relegated.
Though they returned to the top flight a year later, Ashley’s staple of how to run the club was focussed on survival, and meagre results against unassuming teams. The fans – unhappy and frustrated – brought discontented noise in their droves at the owners plans severely lacking in ambition of any sort. Ashley’s goal was simply survival. Then came along arguably their most successful manager under the Ashley ownership – Alan Pardew. A brilliant manager by everyone’s standards but Newcastle’s own, his highest achievement of 5th was not enough to convince the 52,000 that their team was on the up. After months of relentless hounding, Pardew departed for Crystal Palace, and flourished hugely.
The history of Ashley’s managers are names that bring with them a knowledge and historical association with the club, but managers who are simply not up to date with the modern ethics of Premier League football. Gerry Francis, Shearer, John Carver all failed emphatically at hauling the Magpies out of this abyss of misery they have been in for some years. McClaren himself had not managed a Premier League side since his 2006 departure from Middlesbrough. His shortcomings at FC Twente and Derby County brought bewilderment at his somewhat unexpected appointment at St James’ Park.
Though he put his money where his mouth was, signing Georginio Wijnaldum and Aleksandar Mitrovic for a combined £27 million, and bringing in Chancel Mbemba and Flaurian Thauvin, only Wijnaldum prospered as the black and white side withered and faltered time after time. McClaren departs having won less than 10 of his 36 games in charge.
Rafa Benitez’ appointment might change the face of the side. Might! Newcastle fans rightly see a proven winner in a man who has collected several league titles, domestic cup successes, and a handful of European triumphs. Loved by Liverpool fans, and begrudgingly respected by Chelsea, he has thorough knowledge of the Premier League’s competitivity. However, never before has he managed a side in Newcastle’s state. He is used to competing for European spots, title challenges, not relegation scraps, leaky defences, and attacks found wanting. This is his biggest test of managerial credibility.
Optimism lies in Benitez’ style. A defensive tactician who plays from the back, his focus will be on shoring up the back line that without Fabricio Collocini’s reliability, may have fallen further. Whilst moving forward, he may present Jonjo Shelvey with a key role as the cog between defence and attack. Wijnaldum, as Newcastle’s top scorer, gives Benitez some options, but he needs to address the failings of the still immature Mitrovic, whilst finding a strike partner for the young Dutchman.
“A great coup” is what Shearer labelled Benitez appointment as. The Tyneside club has never been more reliant on Shearer being the voice of accuracy, because now they are in great need of it – and it starts at table toppers Leicester on Monday night.