Life, I guess, is built on relationships.
Relationships with your parents, partner, kids, mates, teachers, colleagues and so on, have a lot to do with how you end up and how happy you are. Good relationships lead to happiness, I’d say.
My relationship with Newcastle United is just about at breaking point. And it’s worse than that…
I remember watching the celebrations when Bournemouth were promoted last year. They were nowhere near favourites for promotion at the start of the season, but collective will and mutual support had seen them defy the odds.
Watching that, it struck me then that there are four key elements in a football club: the owner, the coaching staff, the players and the fans.
In the case of AFC Bournemouth, it looked like all of those elements were working in perfect harmony. The owner trusted the manager, the players looked like fans, the fans believed in the owner, and so on. At Newcastle, every one of those relationships is broken.
I’m writing this the morning after the City game, en route to the other end of Europe for work. I’m away for a week, so I’ll probably miss a lot of the inquests that go on into the hammering we took at City.
Some people will blame the players, some will blame the manager and some will blame the owner. They will all be correct. But those fans who think, variously, that things would have been better if Gouffran had not played, Pardew was still here, or we’d played a different formation are – in my view – looking at about 10% of the problem.
Newcastle United is a club that has fallen out of love with itself. Look at the owner, the coach, the players and the fans. Then show me one relationship between them that is working. I bet you can’t.
Sure, I like Perez, Mitrovic obviously loves the fans, Steven Taylor would die for the cause (his injury record suggests he is trying), but overall, we don’t like each other much.
Few fans trust the board, and even fewer like them. I’ve had a couple of emails from Lee Charnley that tell me he is trying to win back our affections, and he is to be commended for this, but he has to keep doing it to show he is serious. The board has spent too long treating the fans as if they were something that stuck to their shoe as they walked in the doors of St James Park.
Under the current regime, it seems whichever manager we appoint has little or no say in which players we recruit, and this goes back to the days when Dennis Wise was ushering new signings into Kevin Keegan’s office and explaining that no, this wasn’t a Journalist from El Pais, but a talented midfielder he’d seen on YouTube.
I know it’s modern football, but it doesn’t seem to work for Newcastle. A lot of the signings I’ve seen have been OK. Some have been excellent, but too many have been mediocre at best, or square pegs in round holes. I won’t re-hash the arguments around the policy of only signing players with a potential resale value, but I’d bet the relationship between the board and the coaching staff is awkward and unhappy.
I don’t see players playing for this manager, and this manager does not seem to be the galvanising force that would motivate them. There are too many shirkers, too many sulkers, too many players who hide when the going gets tough.
Everyone says that Steve McClaren is a good coach, but this team needs a manager who leads them more than they need a coach that instructs them. People follow leaders, for all manner of reasons, and some people do very well without a leader. This team is crying out for leadership, but McClaren doesn’t look like he has it in him. It’s not his fault that a lot of his squad don’t give a monkey’s.
They didn’t under Pardew for much of his tenure, and they certainly didn’t under Carver, apart from a couple of notable exceptions. I sometimes muse on whether the recruitment policy is to blame. If I’m a player that has been bought by Graham Carr and Lee Charnley, and only met Steve McClaren after I signed, how do I know he rates me? And if I’m Steve McClaren, why the hell should I?
The fans don’t despise McClaren, but he doesn’t convince them, in my eyes. He says the right things, and probably means them, but there is no bond there. Some managers have the gift of getting the fans on board, but he isn’t one of those. Nice bloke, nothing against him, but he’s not the inspirational figure Newcastle fans were crying out for at the end of last season. And that lack of rapport will see him on the receiving end of the anger that has never been far from the surface of our club in the recent past.
It is unusual for Newcastle fans to turn on the players. I don’t want to boo a team with Ayoze Perez, Daryl Janmaat and Aleksander Mitrovic in it. They look like they care, and they have talent. I don’t want them thinking I am directing any disapproval at them.
But I’m struggling to add to that list (Colback and Krul perhaps, Mbemba at a real stretch, and Mbabu on the basis of the very little I’ve seen). But there are too many players who look like they’d rather be anywhere else.
I can remember bad teams at Newcastle before now, but I’m struggling to think of a time when we had such an allegedly talented group of players who cared so little. For me, it makes it worse not better that on some occasions this season (manure away, Arsenal with 10 men, Chelsea, even the first half against City) the players have looked like a team with desire and commitment. If they can play like that some of the time, I believe we have the right to demand they play like that all of the time. In fact, we shouldn’t have to demand it. No one should. They are professional footballers, for crying out loud.
So it seems to me that there is a four-way split at Newcastle United. The relationships between board, coaches, players and fans are all broken. We even read of divisions in the dressing room. If at least some of those relationships are not fixed soon, we are hurtling towards the Championship at speed. But fixing them won’t be easy…
The fans are not to blame. They seldom are. At any club that sinks, they are always the last people on the bridge singing the national anthem.
Newcastle fans have given time, money, love, trust and loyalty in abundance through decades of underachievement. I’m not sure they have much more to give. As with any organisation, change has to start at the top. In my view, Mike Ashley and his board need – in no particular order – to:
- Continue, improve and accelerate the communication process they have begun with the fans
- Identify the players who are damaging to the cause and get rid of them. A quick poll of the coaching and playing staff will – I bet – throw up the same names
- Keep investing. I know we spent £50m in the summer, and I’m not criticising that, but it needs to happen again in January, and again in the summer. I know it means the board spending big, but we have no choice
- Give the manager more say in choosing who we sign. At least ask him what he needs. If they don’t trust this manager’s judgment, they need to replace him with someone whose judgment they do
- Find someone to motivate the players. They are taking our money (and Mike Ashley’s) without earning it. Mike Ashley would have sacked half of his Sports Direct employees if they behaved like this lot. He can’t sack players with contracts, but surely he can tell them current levels of commitment are unacceptable. If this manager can’t motivate them, they need to find someone who can.
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