McClaren is finally in at Newcastle United - but jury still remains out
Third time lucky? Newcastle United are certainly hoping so.
Steve McClaren was last night finally unveiled as the Magpies’ new head coach after what seemed like an eternity of waiting.
It was third time he’d been approached by Lee Charnley since Alan Pardew quit the club for Crystal Palace.
First rejecting the role in January to stay with Derby County, and then again last month when – in the aftermath of the Rams’ implosion which saw them miss out on the play-offs, he was invited to take control of United for the last three games of the season as they seemingly hurtled headlong out of the Premier League.
With the pain of Derby’s terrible end to the season still raw, and uncertainty surrounding Newcastle’s future, he again refused.
But once he had been sacked by the Midlands club last month, it was only a matter of time before he was approached again.
Charnley has got his man, at last. It’s taken more than five months and after his disastrous decision to give John Carver the role – albeit on an interim basis – almost ended in relegation, the managing director had better have got this one right, otherwise he might too pay the price.
The jury is well and truly out on McClaren. Fans, understandably, were hoping for a bigger name, a fresher outlook. Patrick Vieira, Frank De Boer and Michael Laudrup were mentioned in dispatches but while they got the Toon Army’s pulses racing, they did little for owner Mike Ashley & Co.
Ashley has never appointed a manager from outside of these shores. Kevin Keegan, Chris Hughton, Joe Kinnear, Alan Shearer and Alan Pardew bear testimony to that.
Ashley also likes surrounding himself with people he knows and trusts. If you’re part of his inner circle, or have good links with people who have his ear, happy days. It’s why Dennis Wise, Tony Jiminez, Kinnear and the likes have all been employed under some guise by Newcastle since Ashley’s arrival.
McClaren is a safe pair of hands. His relationship with chief scout Graham Carr is strong and he’s well known to the United hierarchy. His appointment to the Newcastle board – along with Carr and club ambassador Bob Moncur – shows how trusted he is.
And in terms of the job specification, he certainly fits the bill. The Magpies were very clear – they wanted a head coach, not a manager, and regardless of what is said about him elsewhere, you’ll be hard pressed to find any ex-player or manager criticising McClaren’s ability on the training ground.
Yes, his CV has failures on it. England is the big blot, though an interesting chat with Malcolm Crosby this week revealed he thought the job had come too soon for the man he worked alongside at Middlesbrough.
Having rebuilt his reputation with a Dutch title triumph at FC Twente, it took a bit of a blow again with unsuccessful spells at Wolfsburg and Nottingham Forest.
One thing is for sure, McClaren hasn’t shirked challenges. Heading to Holland and Germany show that, and his principled stand against Forest’s chiefs over transfers is intriguing.
In many senses, this is the best appointment fans could have hoped for under Ashley. Of experienced, English coaches available, McClaren is arguably the best of the bunch.
Yet it still smacks of a missed opportunity. It still comes across as jobs for the boys, not helped by the ridiculous decision by the club to only grant interviews to their ‘preferred media partners’.
McClaren needs to hit the ground running to get the fans onside. And already, he’s netted an own goal by going along with the decision to alienate 75 per cent of the media.
Far from building optimism with a positive, upbeat start to his tenure, McClaren is already facing negativity from supporters and media alike. Before he’s even set foot inside the training ground.
Only at Newcastle.