The news of Steve McClaren’s impending appointment was initially met with disappointment, apathy and feelings of missed opportunity. However, could the tide be turning towards the new Newcastle United manager?
Whilst in the minority, I was enthusiastic about Steve McClaren taking up the reins at St James’ Park. Yes, his record is chequered, but which manager’s isn’t? Often, it is not the manager’s ability in question when things go wrong at clubs. Sometimes, it could be as simple as a manager wasn’t a good fit, or the timing was wrong.
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I would cite Mark Hughes as a prime example. His spell at QPR was nothing short of a disgrace, however he has worked wonders at Stoke, and even managed to improve on the good work done by Tony Pulis.
Steve McClaren’s first success followed his move to Derby County in 1995 to assist former Newcastle manager Jim Smith. Promotion to the Premier League was achieved in their first season together, before McClaren then moved to Manchester United in early 1999.
Half a season later McClaren had won the treble with Man Utd, assisting Sir Alex Ferguson. His reputation within the game as a tactically astute coach, using modern methods such as video analysis, was growing rapidly. He was rated highly by Sir Alex, and a league title in every season McClaren was at the club, certainly backs this up.
His first managerial appointment was surely on the cards, and it was Middlesbrough who gave McClaren his chance, succeeding Bryan Robson in 2001. By 2004, McClaren had won Middlesbrough the League Cup, with a 2-1 victory over Bolton. This was the first major honour in Boro’s history, and also ensured European football for the following season for the first time.
Stunning comebacks against Basle and Steaua Bucharest contributed to Middlesbrough reaching the UEFA Cup Final in 2005/06, where they lost 4-0 to Sevilla. A 14th place finish and another FA Cup Semi Final defeat would be McClaren’s final act, as the poisoned chalice of England came calling.
The England job would of course end in disaster, and would prove up to now, to be a career-defining mistake.
It came as no surprise that after seeking advice from Sir Bobby Robson, McClaren’s next role was not in England, but abroad, to FC Twente of Holland.
A second place finish and a run to the Dutch Cup Final would mark his first season as a success, however it would be the 2009/2010 season, where McClaren would achieve the pinnacle, a League Title. Twente finished the season as champions, ahead of Ajax, to win the first title in their history, and McClaren the Dutch Manager of the Year in the process.
Subsequent stints at Wolfsburg, a very brief period at Nottingham Forest, and a return to Twente did not yield the same success. McClaren would then return to England to manage Derby County in 2013.
Derby reached the Play-off Final in 2014, narrowly (and undeservedly) losing to a Bobby Zamora goal as QPR were promoted to the Premier League. Derby would start the 2014/2015 strongly, heading the table for periods and reaching a League Cup Quarter-Final.
However, Derby’s form tailed off and they missed out on the Play-offs on the final day of the season. This led to McClaren getting the sack, replaced by Paul Clement.
The criticism he received at Derby is unwarranted in my eyes. Accusations that Newcastle’s January approach led to Derby’s loss of form seem harsh. McClaren stayed committed to Derby, and a horrendous run of injuries, including crucially to Chris Martin, was the more likely culprit.
Under McClaren, Derby achieved 43% more wins, had 71% more clean sheets and score 46% more goals than prior to his tenure. Widely overlooked is the attractive, passing football he instilled at Derby, whilst also ensuring young talent was pushed on.
Steve McClaren’s approach to developing youth is praised throughout the game. This is a part of Newcastle that has been lacking for years. Kevin Keegan’s decision to scrap the reserves during his first tenure, is still causing a ripple effect to this day.
Big things are expected of Adam Armstrong, but only Andy Carroll and Paul Dummett have graduated into first team members in recent years, with a notable mention to Rolando Aarons should he sort out his injury problems.
It is also worth noting McClaren’s success in cup competitions. Steve McClaren was the first Englishman to lift silverware since 1996 (Joe Royle with Everton), and the first Englishman since 1984 to reach a major European final with an English club.
A League Cup winner, a UEFA Cup Final appearance, a Dutch Cup Final appearance, 3 Cup Semi-Final appearances and a League Cup Quarter Final is a record not to be sniffed at.
Let’s not forget, as well as winning Middlesbrough their first major trophy, and Twente their first title, he also became the first English manager to win a league title since Sir Bobby Robson in 1996.
McClaren is heavily respected by the players also, with even suggestions Jermain Defoe tried to persuade Ellis Short into hijacking the appointment, only for Dick Advocaat to change his mind and stay on at Sunderland.
One thing is for certain, McClaren is an excellent coach. And this is where he fits perfectly into Newcastle’s model. More important than McClaren’s appointment however, might be the dismissals of John Carver and Steve Stone.
In many ways, they are as much to blame as Alan Pardew for the awful football produced over the past 5 years. They had to leave, to ensure McClaren has every chance to succeed. Hopefully the appointments of Steve Black, Paul Simpson and Eric Steele are pending.
In conclusion, is Steve McClaren the right man for Newcastle? I would have to say yes.
He fits into the European model well, has an excellent relationship with Graham Carr (thus ensuring trust with regards to transfers) and is a technically gifted coach. Get the player recruitment right this summer, and we might just be onto something.
Optimistic? Very much so. Although this is Newcastle United and Mike Ashley, so I probably shouldn’t be …