It would take something of a volte-face for anyone other than Steve McLaren to become the Newcastle United manager now. McLaren’s appointment has been on the cards for quite some time and not just since Pardew hopped aboard a fast train to London in January. McLaren has been on the United radar for a number of years and before being appointed by Derby a couple of seasons ago, was a regular at St James’ Park and he has along established relationship with Graeme Carr. Without sounding like a clever shite, those who might be long term readers of this waffle will know the references we have made to McLaren over a number of years.
So, (sighs) its Steve McLaren then! I know there are many of you reading this of the view he’s a decent appointment and he should be given a chance. I know there’s a few completely indifferent to McLaren but believe in the interests of fairness to the bloke he should be given a fair crack of the whip and there are others who believe that if he starts his time at United within a begrudging atmosphere with fans ready to jump all over him, that could be very damaging for United. I’m aware also there are many others too who regard his appointment as something as the Alan Pardew continuity candidate and who believe regardless of his merits, he’s doomed to failure working for a Newcastle United owned by Mike Ashley.
Let’s be honest, all those viewpoints are perfectly valid.
Where I am I think is that I’m singularly uninspired by his appointment. I don’t think his arrival at United will amount to much of a change. It would appear, the appointment has been left to Charnley and Carr and they have made an appointment they are comfortable with rather than what the club really needs which as many of you agree is ambition.
What I think sailed slightly under the radar in Ashley’s surprising TV appearance before the West Ham game was the clarity Ashley gave about whom would be making the managerial appointment and that was clearly going to be Lee Charnley. In his turn, Charnley has worked with Graeme Carr to select McLaren from a list of what we were told back in January was eighty candidates long. Hmm.
News breaking over the weekend suggests that Ashley is moving further away from the running of United by standing down from the board. This may be a technical matter but it does say something that Ashley has removed himself administratively and in executive terms with the management decisions falling to Carr and Charnley. News that there may be others joining the board might be welcome even though one I assume will be a replacement for John Irving, the Finance Director who has decided to leave United to work at the Airport. Who the other body might be I do not know but it is to be hoped it is someone with a remit to either to grow the club commercially and/or improve its public standing amongst its own community of supporters. I think I’ll laugh bitterly if the new man happens to be Derek Llambias.
It’s not difficult to understand why Ashley would wish to move away from United, at least in executive terms. As part of MASH, United is a pretty small, if not inconsequential part of his portfolio and he has a range of other interests elsewhere which are far more lucrative to him than Newcastle United and I just don’t mean Sports Direct. For a man as driven in business as Ashley he will be devoting his time to those areas where he will make him the biggest return. He may not see Newcastle United as the biggest money-spinner available to him. Or anywhere near it.
Over the last number of months business analysts attempting to second guess a man of surprises have begun to wonder if Ashley is making some significant changes to his strategy and that is most concerned with his moves into the burgeoning London property market. I read in the business pages of one of the broadsheets (well, I read it online, I haven’t bought a newspaper for about three years) estimate that a deal Ashley was involved in was forecast to turn him a profit of £900m over four to five years. However much there is in football, it is small potatoes compared to that kind of investment. Similarly, it’s even been rumoured Ashley might be untangling himself from Sports Direct and lately he has sold £200m’s worth of shares in the business. I’d find that hard to process to be honest.
In short, Mike Ashley looks like he has much bigger fish to fry than Newcastle United, an unloved asset of his where he remains a toxic figure amongst the club’s support. Thus the decision on the appointment of a bloke to train some footballers has been left completely to the two men who largely run Newcastle United – Lee Charnley and Graeme Carr.
What I regarded as most disappointing about Ashley’s rare TV appearance was the implicit vote of confidence in Lee Charnley. I’ve nothing personal against Charnley, I’ve never met the bloke but as one who picks up pieces of what goes on at SJP, I’ve not heard anything positive and his CV suggests to me he has been grossly over-promoted. That he has been bestowed the soubriquet “Mini-Mike” by some United employees suggests an absence of original thinking and slavishness to delivering exactly what “Big Mike” orders. His salary, large in comparison to what many of us earn in the stands, is paltry compared to his peers at other PL and probably Championship clubs take home. As has been noted many times previously, the Ashley strategy appears to promote employees into positions they appear unqualified for but simply on the basis he knows them to be reliable, malleable drones to carry out his bidding. That’s all very well but I’d suggest the absence of achievement, ambition and creativity within the boardroom will continue to cramp the club.
I was never a big fan of United’s previous Chief Executive Freddie Fletcher but the man’s CV established at Morton but spectacularly in the renaissance of Rangers in the 1980s as well as in Scottish politics makes him a giant compared to Charnley. I can’t imagine Fletcher being intimidated by the likes of Souness, Keegan and Co. but I do think Charnley would be petrified of men of the calibre of Viera and Laudrup.
So, here we have Steve McLaren. Newly sacked of Derby and I don’t believe with an earthly chance of getting a PL job at any other club where he didn’t have some kind of long term relationship with Graeme Carr. Sound familiar?
Like Charnley, like Pardew, like Carver, McLaren wasn’t in demand – this is the only place he’ll get a go and he’ll jump at the chance. For a manager who has recently failed to get Derby promoted after being binned by Forest, previously failed in the Bundesliga with Wolfsburg and became a humiliated, derided figure in his time as England manager, McLaren will point to a startling achievement in Holland with FC Twente where he won the Eredivisie in 2013 and a spell at Boro where he delivered the League Cup in 2004 and got them to the UEFA Cup Final in 2005 where they were spectacularly humped 4-0 by Sevilla. He was a well-regarded coach at Man Utd and has had a few players line up to give references to his quality as a coach.
Boro fans I know shrug at the mention of his name which is ironic given he delivered the only piece of silverware they have won in their entire history. The style of play has been described a dreadful and I am yet to read many pieces praising the style of his latest club, Derby County.
One thing I do know is this could be the last decision Carr and Charnley get to make at United if it unravels. Although neither man can be held responsible for the lack of investment into the club, their decision making isn’t without culpability either. These two publicity-shy movers and shakers have been given the biggest call to make. They have agreed to make a conservative and unimaginative appointment. It’s an appointment to suit them in my opinion.
What McLaren appears to be signing up for is the same role Pardew occupied i.e. train the players, pick the team, work with what he’s given, take the flak and be the single and only public face of Newcastle United FC. He will also be working with a coaching team assembled by his predecessor, one of which has just been passed over for the job he now occupies. Carver, Stone and Woodman were given mad contracts along with Pardew and it would seem the reluctance to pay them off and award compensation has kept them in a job. I’ll leave you decide if this is penny-wise and pound foolish.
Whether McLaren, whose only area of total authority is in coaching the team, will be allowed to appoint his own coaching team, remains to be seen but if not once again, United are making things very difficult for the most important man at the football club.
McLaren is coming into a very difficult situation. He should have our best wishes and he will I’m sure. However, the people he needs to watch closely aren’t the local media or tens of thousands of disaffected supporters – it is Graeme Carr and Lee Charnley, not to forget Mike Ashley. He’ll be in a lonely position.
I don’t disagree that Ryan Taylor and Jonas Guitteraz shouldn’t be offered new contracts at Newcastle United. Despite Jonas’ heroic display against West Ham on the last day of the season, I agree it’s time to call time on his career at United. Likewise Ryan Taylor who has endured two and a bit years out of the game due to serious injuries must have painful for a lad who clearly loves playing football and whose commitment to recovery is one I wish had been shared by HBA. I did find it extremely distasteful how the news of the club’s decision was broken to them whilst undertaking a coaching course in Belfast. A phone-call? Really?
Is this how United conducts itself?
The club and by which I mean Charnley, Pardew and Ashley treated Jonas shamefully during his cancer treatment and I don’t doubt within the game itself has seriously damaged its reputation. The club should and could have done so much more. Behaving with something approaching humanity might have been a start.
As a club we should have high expectations of managers, coaches, players and directors. The club seems indifferent to what supporters’ value and for some time how it conducts itself just makes so many of us wince and feel ashamed.
That just has to stop.
Many thanks to all of you who joined in the Discussion Day piece (as below) regarding McLaren’s imminent appointment. I think we had a good, informed debate and its important that as supporters we develop and retain a narrative of what we think about key issues at the club as so often they are hijacked by those with skewed agendas and misrepresented in the national media. We’ll have more of those topics going forward I’m sure. This week following McLaren’s appointment, we’ll also be having a dedicated podcast on the subject which yours truly hopes to be involved with. We’ll have news of that on the website, so keep tuning in folks.
The Champions League on Saturday night was a thoroughly great game but I couldn’t help reflecting and sharing via my twitter account that I’ve seen my team Newcastle United beat both the finalists in the same competition at St James’ Par. Those were happy days. Here’s the footage. It did happen.
Have a great week.
Keep On, Keepin’ On …