From my vantage point in Nottinghamshire, I find myself inevitably working with quite a few Nottingham Forest fans (don’t call them Notts Forest, they don’t like that) and many of my colleagues take more than a passing interest in the fortunes of their former manager, and former rival Derby County manager, Steve McClaren.
Obviously the recent form of Newcastle United has not gone unnoticed and I am being told of quite a few parallels, between what the Forest fans saw, and what we are currently seeing in terms of the football being played.
For those who don’t recall (why would you?), Steve McClaren was appointed to Forest in the summer of 2011 as successor to the fan favourite Billy Davies, who had taken Forest to the play-offs in the previous two seasons.
Davies was a bristly character who wasn’t afraid of publicly calling out the board of the club when he didn’t receive, what he considered to be, enough support in building a team to get promotion to the Premier league. His approach struck a chord with some fans, who admired his honesty, whilst others knew that his outbursts were a sure-fire way to find yourself out of a job, which is exactly what happened.
Nevertheless, in the previous two seasons Forest had gone on a run which had seen them undefeated in thirty home games and were regarded as a solid if unspectacular unit, just lacking that final piece to get them into the top flight, enter Steve McClaren.
Much of what was good about the Nottingham Forest side which McClaren inherited came from a solid foundation, the defence and goalkeeper were a solid unit and in the season before Steve arrived had conceded only 17 goals in the first 19 matches.
In Steve’s first season that same defence took just 9 games to concede 18 goals, including 5 against a poor Burnley side, the fans couldn’t believe what they were seeing. In an away match against Birmingham, Luke Chambers (player of the season the year before) and Wes Morgan (now a regular at Leicester) allowed a player to run the length of the pitch unchallenged before slotting home, making no attempt to chase him down.
Against local rivals Derby a goal was conceded as a player scored unchallenged from a tight angle, clearly the players had stopped playing for the manager.
What McClaren, in his wisdom, had done, was to take a defence organised to play a man marking system and swapped them to zonal marking. The players complained that the system did not suit the personnel and that they were all comfortable as man markers, but Steve persisted, desperately trying to get the players to fit the system rather than the other way around.
The dressing room rebelled, the fans vented their fury and McClaren did the honourable thing. He resigned without a pay off, and later in an interview with Goals On Sunday admitted that he had tried to change too much and it hadn’t worked, he also stated that he had wanted a couple of ‘Premier League quality players’, but that the chairman had decided that they were not value for money….does any of this sound familiar?
In the context of Newcastle, he didn’t arrive to find a resolute defence, but he certainly hasn’t improved it. Surely this was a key part of the task ahead?
In the context of Newcastle, it is tough to tell if the players have stopped playing for the manager, as most of the longer contracted players seem to have retired in 2012, despite still turning up every week to collect their pay.
However, certainly the new signings have got gradually worse as each game passes. In the context of Newcastle signings, we heard from McClaren during the summer that the defence was a priority to get a couple of players in. In the event we re-signed an Argentinian pensioner and bought a French winger instead, much of history is repeating itself it would seem, with a subtle Mike Ashley twist.
It’s easy, and correct, to say that the failings we are seeing are not entirely Steve McClaren’s fault, but he certainly doesn’t help himself. He bought into the running of the club, he accepts the lack of support for actually building a team and, like Pardew before him, he is simply paid to take the brunt of fan frustrations in absence of the owner.
When McClaren left Forest he did so with dignity, he admitted his mistakes in changing too much of what was good about the team and not adding to that to make it better, he left on his own terms and without a pay-off.
Right now he finds himself in a similar situation at Newcastle. He has changed things for change sake at times; players out of position, formations mid-match and increasingly bizarre substitutions. He obviously has a preferred way that he wants the team to play, but the personnel to do that are simply not in his squad. So rather than realise that, he persists with this possession game that we are clearly incapable of playing, due to an inability to keep…possession.
Isn’t it time that Steve did the honourable thing and walked again?
The owner won’t sack him because the owner rarely admits mistakes, and when he does he doesn’t actually address them – Pardew and then Carver were left to flounder far longer than they should have been. We know that the major problem is the owner, we know that McClaren hasn’t been supported as well as he should have been, we know that players have been bought who should not have been and vice versa, but none of this should detract from the painful truth that Steve McClaren is simply not a good manager, he’s a coach.
I realise that inevitable questions will come, about who would actually take this poison job on, and I have no idea, but I am quietly confident that it would be another journeyman or charlatan. The only certainty is that the bloke who is currently in the seat is ineffective and continuing as we are is dangerous, if we actually want to avoid relegation.
Come on Steve, do the honourable thing again please.
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