Steve McClaren under more pressure than most at Newcastle

By Phil McNultyChief football writer
Steve McClaren
Newcastle United are the fourth English club that Steve McClaren has been in charge of

Steve McClaren's brave new world at Newcastle United was tinged with acrimony even before he had completed his first day on Tyneside.

Instead of outlining his route map to success for the Toon Army to everyone, McClaren was only allowed to speak to the Daily Mirror and Sky - providing a sideshow on what should have been a showpiece day for Newcastle United.

When the fuss over that dies down - and it seemed a short-sighted and small-time decision from the club's hierarchy led by owner Mike Ashley - the most crucial decision will be provided by results on the pitch.

McClaren has much work to do in all these areas.

Bridge the credibility gap

Steve McClaren
Steve McClaren was England's manager when the side failed to qualify for Euro 2008

McClaren, unfair as it may seem, still carries the nightmare of his struggles as England coach wherever he goes.

He is remembered by many - harshly given the courage he demonstrated in relocating to the Netherlands to rebuild his career by winning Eredivisie with FC Twente - as 'the Wally with the Brolly' standing forlorn holding an umbrella throughout a Wembley storm in November 2007 as England lost to Croatia and failed to reach the following summer's European Championship.

McClaren was sacked by the Football Association inside 24 hours and the stigma is still there, a dent in the credibility of man so many players regard as one of this country's most innovative, imaginative coaches.

It means he has to make his impressions quicker than most to stop those days being revisited. The only way he will truly banish the memory is by winning a trophy in this country - and what better place to do that than at Newcastle United, a club without success since the Inter Cities Fairs Cup in 1969?

McClaren's career
Born: 3 May 1961Teams managed: Middlesbrough, England, FC Twente (twice), Wolfsburg, Nottingham Forest, Derby
Clubs played for: Hull City, Derby County, Lincoln City (loan), Bristol City, Oxford UnitedManagement honours: League Cup 2004 (Middlesbrough), Eredivisie 2010 (FC Twente)
Playing honours: Football League Second Division 1987 (Derby)

McClaren works under a unique pressure. He appears to always be a short run of poor form away from having his worst moment re-examined - but this is a huge chance for him.

And he also arrived on Tyneside on Wednesday tainted by a sour end to his time at Derby County, where they threw away a promising Championship promotion position and failed to even reach the play-offs.

They conceded 23 goals in their final 13 Championship matches, their only wins coming against relegated sides Wigan Athletic and Blackpool. The Rams earned just 12 points out of a possible 39 after beating Charlton Athletic in February.

Had Newcastle appointed a manager who had just taken Derby County into the Premier League they could have presented it as a coup - now he may be regarded as damaged goods after the manner of his departure from the Rams.

Repair a wretched squad

Newcastle's Premier League status was only secured on the last day of the 2014-15 season

The "immediate focus", according to the club, is to reshape a squad that only escaped relegation into the Championship on the final day of the Premier League season by beating West Ham United as Hull City failed to win against Manchester United.

This was a very small fig leaf to hide the embarrassment of a dreadful run under caretaker manager John Carver, losing nine of their last 11 league games to almost drop out of the top flight.

Newcastle, to be brutal, did not look fit for purpose in those closing weeks, although the noises coming out of St James' Park is that owner Ashley will make money available to strengthen.

Goalkeeper Tim Krul provides quality while Jack Colback and Moussa Sissoko will form the centrepiece of his midfield, but there is a glaring lack of quality elsewhere.

Papiss Cisse is inconsistent but at least gets goals. Newcastle, however, were horrendously poor in defence, especially at set pieces. Fabricio Collocini lost much of his old authority while Mike Williamson, in a moment that summed up Carver's chaotic reign, was accused by his manager of getting himself sent off deliberately in the loss at Leicester City to avoid the pressure of the relegation fight.

A commanding central defender is required, as is a goalscorer. Newcastle and Ashley need to make a statement of intent - and they might be tempted to start by trying to sign QPR's Charlie Austin, newly called up by England and looking to leave Loftus Road after their relegation. He proved his quality by scoring 18 goals in a relegated side.

Newcastle's fans will be looking for Ashley to deliver on his bold words about winning a trophy when he broke his silence on the final day of last season.

Must not be seen as Mike Ashley's puppet

Mike Ashley
Mike Ashley will remain as Newcastle's owner, but he will no longer be on the club's board

Any Newcastle manager appointed by Ashley will immediately be tainted by the association with an owner who remains deeply unpopular with the 'Toon Army'.

The celebrations for survival lasted only a matter of minutes on the season's final day before thousands of Newcastle fans turned their attention to demanding Ashley leave the club.

You can forget that. It will not be happening - and Ashley has shown time and again that he is supremely indifferent to the critics.

What McClaren must show is that he is his own man but he did not make an auspicious start by agreeing with the decision to address only media outlets selected by the club on his opening day.

This should have been a new start, McClaren putting his message out there to as many people as possible about his hopes and aspirations for Newcastle.

McClaren should have put his stake in the ground right away and insisted on speaking to all of the media at a traditional open press conference. He did not - and that will be not be regarded as a great sign.

He is at ease with the media and is also popular with those he has dealings with. It is impossible to believe he would have been in any way comfortable with the idea and yet he went along with it.

In another reshaping of the Newcastle management, McClaren will now be on the club's board with chief scout Graham Carr, ambassador Bobby Moncur (the last club captain to hold silverware aloft) and joint managing director Lee Charnley.

It is certainly a twist on tradition but it is very unlikely Ashley, who has relinquished his position on the board, will relinquish his position of the man holding the power at St James' Park.

McClaren can use this elevated position to insist the recent days of the Ashley regime, where key players such as Yohan Cabaye and Mathieu Debuchy are swiftly sold on for profit, are brought to an end. This will endear him to the fans instantly.

Former manager Alan Pardew was never trusted because he was simply regarded as a puppet who danced to Ashley's tune. It will be to McClaren's advantage not to be viewed in a similar light.

Satisfy great expectations

Newcastle United have not won a trophy since they won the Fairs Cup in 1969

Bit of a myth this one - the wisdom being that Newcastle's fans demand a Premier League challenge every season and a team shaping up to challenge for the Champions League.

This is a nonsense. Newcastle's vast support simply want a team that reflects the fact that 52,000 Tynesiders turn up at St. James' Park for every home game, a team making a decent fist of it in the league and challenging for a cup.

Newcastle and Ashley appeared to have given up on cup competitions in recent seasons, with avoiding any flirtation with relegation seemingly the priority every season.

This was not good enough for Newcastle's followers, and who could blame them for being disaffected?

Their expectations are actually quite realistic. McClaren's first mission statement is to achieve a top eight finish and have a crack at a cup - and for all the misconceptions about Newcastle fans' "over-expectations" they would probably settle for that.

Make a fast start

Steve McClaren
Steve McClaren's last job was at Derby County, who missed out on the Championship play-offs by one point

Newcastle's fans will want fairly swift proof that McClaren can take them in the right direction - and he will want to show he is worthy of landing this prime job.

He is highly regarded by many inside the game, and don't forget he won the League Cup at Middlesbrough as well as taking them to the Uefa Cup final in 2006, where they lost to Sevilla.

McClaren's recent career has, however, been chequered.

After his success at FC Twente he was sacked by Wolfsburg and only lasted 112 days in charge of Nottingham Forest after taking over at the City Ground in 2011, leaving them fourth from the bottom of the Championship and one point above the relegation zone.

He was reportedly unhappy about being unable to sign two players on loan at Forest, so there were problems backstage to deal with, and a subsequent return to FC Twente was unsuccessful.

McClaren has been a manager in search of fulfilment, respected but without the successes to go with that admiration. If he succeeds in the hotbed that is Newcastle, it will be the perfect redemption.


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