“He’s been out of his depth since the moment he walked in.”
That was Daily Mail reporter Craig Hope’s closing salvo in response to Newcastle United head coach Steve McClaren’s claims of a negative agenda.
After the 3-1 defeat to Bournemouth at St James Park, it is questionable whether the man at the helm will go down with his ship or not, as his team looked all at sea against Eddie Howe’s side.
While Steve McClaren insists he has what it takes to keep Newcastle in the Premier League, the truth is that the ex-England boss is drowning but unwilling to relinquish his last chance at a top job.
Tactics have been chopped and changed as the beleaguered boss continues to look for the formula that will keep his head above the water.
And press conferences had reached an almost farcical level as McClaren grins and searches for excuses, rather than acknowledging the titanic struggle his team now face.
Even after Saturday’s game, the grin was still firmly in place but he finally accepted some blame on the part of himself and his team, after the fans made it clear enough was enough.
As a reporter for a major national newspaper, Hope is a regular visitor to St James Park and is well placed to talk about how hopeless some of the performances have been this season.
Only Mike Ashley and Lee Charnley know how close the man they spent a year chasing, is to having his contract terminated after just nine months.
No one disputes McClaren’s coaching credentials, which he established as a key lieutenant to Sir Alex Ferguson, but the £100million question remains: is he a manager?
While fans of Wolfsburg, Nottingham Forest, FC Twente, Derby County and now Newcastle have long been able to answer that, it appears the penny is finally dropping for the rest of the footballing public – no, he isn’t.
There is no shame in that and with an owner like Ashley, he might get the chance to fight on, even if he appears to be unqualified for a role like the one he clings onto.
But McClaren going on the defensive and hitting out at the press is not going to make his position any easier.
Sitting second bottom in the league with 10 games to go, talk of bad luck and being pleased with his side’s application needs to stop.
If not for the performances of Rob Elliot, Newcastle could already be facing up to life in the Championship with Aston Villa right now.
The ineptitude of Norwich and Sunderland is now the club’s only saving grace and finally McClaren is beginning to realise that.
If he thinks there are too many negative things written about the club, it is only due to his inability to prepare a team capable of playing in a poor Premier League.
Mike Ashley has spent in the region of £82m this season and yet the same problems that showed themselves last year have not been addressed.
With a dearth of creativity, misfiring forwards and a soft defence, there has been little sign of progress as the club looks like idly slipping out of the Premier League.
If anything, as ridiculous as it sounds, the players look overcoached, unwilling to try something a bit different because of a lack of confidence and the formulaic nature of play under McClaren.
The transfer window has come and gone. A 17-day break heralded no change in form at Stoke, Bournemouth have proved that St James Park is no fortress and the team sit four points worse off than the relegation season of 2009.
Do the players need to take more responsibility? Absolutely. It says a lot about the character of the group that 22-year-old Ayoze Perez was the only member of the playing staff interviewed after Saturday’s dismal defeat.
Newcastle have experienced internationals throughout the squad and yet none of them seem either capable or willing to stand up and make themselves heard (unless through a strongly-worded letter).
With the exceptions of Steven Taylor and stand-in skipper Jonjo Shelvey, there was precious little fight in the team that surrendered to the Cherries.
If the players cannot motivate themselves, Steve McClaren has to step in and earn his money to squeeze just enough of them to grab a result – and yet he does nothing to help himself.
The biggest cheer at Saturday’s match was the decision to remove Moussa Sissoko, an athlete who has masqueraded as a footballer all season.
Despite his supposed Champions League ambitions, the Frenchman has been abysmal and looked completely uninterested for long periods and yet only Georginio Wijnaldum and Daryl Janmaat have played more minutes this season.
Saturday’s substitution was the first time Sissoko had been withdrawn from a game early since August, even though he is yet to score a goal and has only five assists this campaign.
The 26-year-old is a prime example of everything that is wrong with the club as arrogance and personal ambition have taken hold in the absence of consequences.
Ashley has no respect for the fans and does not even bother to show up any more, while he only takes an active interest when he is being asked to sign cheques.
Charnley and Graham Carr are on the board despite desperately little to show that they are worthy of a role at any football club in the last couple of years.
The players know they can move on if it all goes wrong and know typically the manager is usually the main casualty for bad results.
If McClaren wants respect, he does not have long to earn it. Thus far, he has done little to show that he is worthy of it, be it from players, fans or the press.
If he wants to turn things around, he is going to have to try something else to motivate his players because defending them in the media – and then hitting out at the same press pack – is not working.
It is now ‘sink or swim’ time for Steve McClaren and the club.
If he wants to prove he is not out of his depth, he will need to manage, not merely coach, his way back to safer waters.
If Messrs Charnley and Ashley stick with him and he is unable to do so, Newcastle United will be staring straight into the abyss.
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