Managerial window shopping.
It’s late November, Christmas is approaching, and the Toon are once again dangling precariously above the relegation places.
It’s no wonder an increasing number of fans are already doing a spot of window shopping for the next Newcastle manager. Rodgers and Moyes might top the wishlists, but no amount of milk, mince pies and good old-fashioned hoping will bring either of them to St. James’ Park.
Why? It’s in the hands of the wrong fat man. No beard, no red coat, no love or ambition in those cold, narrowing arteries.
Not since Sir Bobby Robson have Newcastle United appointed a manager whose calibre matched the club’s stature in English football. The chances of repeating the feat have diminished severely under the Mike Ashley model of ownership.
The roll call during his eight-year tenure as chairman speaks for itself, with some slight exceptions. Chris Hughton performed well above expectations in the role before being replaced by a man with experience at two top-flight clubs, almost dragging one down to the Championship before succeeding with the next. Kevin Keegan wasn’t the most coveted manager in the country when he returned, having spent two happy years away from the limelight.
King Kev’s vociferous objection to the influence of the Cockney Mafia brought about a fiery resignation, furious protests and for sale signs, all within the space of two or three days.
A terrified Ashley wouldn’t poke his head above the parapet for another seven years after that. It was the last time that United fans truly mobilised in full force against the regime. It was also the last time that a manager with his own forthright ideas on recruitment occupied the SD-branded hotseat.
It brings us nicely to the two names that have been dropped, more in hope than anything, in the aftermath of the shambolic display against Leicester City.
David Moyes has seen his career take a turn for the worse ever since he was drafted in as Fergie’s heir apparent at Manchester United. The Scot was partly hamstrung by Ed Woodward’s inexperience and ineptitude when it came to acquiring key players. It didn’t get much better at Real Sociedad, where a watchful eye on finances and the predominant focus on youth development, kept Moyes’ hands tied in the market. Would he willingly subject himself to a third kind of transfer hell?
Unlike Moyes, Brendan Rodgers has plenty of experience operating as part of a recruitment committee. Not all of it is entirely positive. For every Sturridge and Coutinho, there was a Rickie Lambert, an Iago Aspas, an unwavering belief in the world class talents of Joe Allen. That’s not even touching on the Super Mario saga, one of the most misguided pieces of business ever conducted in the back rooms of Anfield. In that respect, he’d fit right in up here.
Playing devil’s advocate, would either be interested in a club like ours? They would, but only for a moment. The city, history, the fanbase, the potential narrative, they all remain enticing. But once the split-second delusion of restorative grandeur subsides, the reality borders on horrifying, as Keegan found to his dismay the second time around.
It doesn’t seem so long ago that Newcastle United was considered one of the top flight’s sleeping giants, a viable and exciting project for ambitious managers. In truth, that hasn’t been the case for almost a decade. Managers with pedigree wouldn’t work with such restrictions in place, and those with something to prove would be considered too bold and confrontational for their face to fit on Tyneside.
Can you imagine a boardroom meeting between Lee Charnley and Nigel Pearson these days?
Interviews for a prospective position lean more towards personality tests than CV credentials. Only mild-mannered yes men need apply.
What’s left, then, is a rather shallow pool of potential candidates should results not improve under Steve McClaren. Perhaps it’s part of the reason why the board are keen to back the Mac, a respected coach who is perpetually repairing his fragile managerial reputation, and perhaps why Pardew received steadfast support throughout the peaks, troughs and headbutts. Even John Carver lasted five months longer than most expected.
(Of course, there’s always the small matter of paying out compensation. Mike Ashley is certainly no Kris Kringle in that regard.)
It’s a corner that the Newcastle United board have painted themselves into. Only when they relinquish some of that power – or, ideally, all of it – will the role become appealing to anyone other than Championship chancers and out of work journeymen.
In the meantime, the club has assembled a square-peg, round-hole squad, and placed a square-peg, round-hole manager at its helm. Most worrying is that it’s the best possible fit for the club, simply because there’s nobody more willing and able. It’s a sad indictment of the entire setup.
The trickle-down effect of the corporate strategy will continue to take its toll in the coming months, just as it has done in previous years. With a run of tough games ahead – Aston Villa at home the only exception – there’s likely to be little festive cheer in supply at St. James’ Park. At this rate, we’ll be stuck with a turkey long after the last cracker has been pulled.
The joke inside is at the supporters’ expense.
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