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Disconsolate McClaren can't wake sleeping giant Newcastle

07 March 2016, 18:52

Newcastle - The withering verdict from Newcastle fans bellowed out from the Gallowgate End, the giant stand at St. James' Park that's a stone's throw from where public executions were held centuries ago.

"Steve McClaren, he's taking us down," was one of the politer chants from the disgruntled locals as Newcastle slumped to yet another loss at the weekend.

One of the last images of McClaren before he was fired by England in 2007 was him standing on the touchline at Wembley Stadium, huddled under an umbrella as rain lashed down during his team's loss to Croatia. On Saturday, the man who'll forever be synonymous with the "Wally with the Brolly" headline looked on helplessly, the latest coach unable to stop the rot at Newcastle.

McClaren's nine-month tenure at Newcastle could be coming to an end, with the team having made its worst-ever 28-game start to a Premier League season. Newcastle is next to last in the standings on 24 points and facing yet another relegation scrap with 10 games left.

McClaren cut a disconsolate figure, on the touchline and in front of the media, after the 3-1 home loss to Bournemouth on Saturday, and his words were tinged with a sense of foreboding.

Also read: Pochettino rues wasted chance to seize title momentum

"I've tried everything," McClaren said. "But I believe there is enough in the dressing room to stay up. I don't care who the manager is, but the club will get out of this."

With regular home crowds of more than 50,000, a loyal, passionate band of supporters in the one-club northern city and recently ranked by Deloitte as the 17th richest club in world soccer, Newcastle is regarded as something of a sleeping giant in England having gone without a major trophy since winning its sixth FA Cup title in 1955. A late-season implosion in 1996, when Kevin Keegan was manager, denied the club a fifth English league title, and since then it's pretty much been a tale of gloom and struggle, including relegation from the Premier League in 2009.

Particularly so since the larger-than-life Mike Ashley bought the club in 2007. Initially popular with fans, he often donned the team's famous black-and-white striped jersey to watch matches alongside supporters in the stands, Ashley is now a figure of scorn, seen by many as ripping ambition out of the club, using Newcastle as a vehicle to promote his business interests and as someone simply happy to rake in the profits from being a regular fixture in the Premier League.

Except Ashley can't really be blamed for the struggles under McClaren.

The owner answered some of his critics by spending 80 million pounds ($113 million) on players in the past two transfer windows. Indeed, Newcastle was Europe's highest-spending club in the January window when it revamped its midfield with three signings, but the impact has been negligible. Only two of this season's eight signings started against Bournemouth.

The defense is still chaotic, the strike force is impotent (Newcastle has 28 goals in 28 games) and the work rate is simply not good enough for fans, from an area of the country that has been hit with economic problems, whose biggest demand is that players give 100 percent for the jersey.

And it's all getting to McClaren. On Friday, he was involved in a heated confrontation with a journalist during and after a news conference. Then came a rare case of his players issuing a pre-match statement declaring their unequivocal support of McClaren.

Their actions on Saturday spoke much louder than their words.

McClaren has proved himself to be a great assistant coach, he earned rave reviews at Manchester United from 1999-2001, in two stints as the No. 2 with England's national team, and even in a short stint with Queens Park Rangers in 2013. But questions are often asked about his abilities as a manager, particularly with his man-management skills.

Since winning the Dutch league in a two-year spell with FC Twente, he didn't last a season at German team Wolfsburg and failed to make an impression in jobs back in England with Nottingham Forest, Derby County and now Newcastle. He arrived at Newcastle in June, as both a manager and a new board member, and targeted a top-eight finish that won't be reached.

Then there's his forgettable 18 months in charge of England, when he failed to qualify the team for Euro 2008.

"It has to change," McClaren said Saturday, referring to Newcastle's run of nine losses in its last 12 games.

Ashley and Newcastle might be thinking of a different kind of change to stop the team getting relegated and missing out on the bounty from record domestic and international TV deals starting next season in the Premier League.

- AP


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