In pretty much all walks of life, you can rely on a Steve. Need someone to fix the water pipe you just drilled through like the hopeless specimen of humanity you are? Steve can help. Some ruffian in Wetherspoons thinks you’re laughing at his Thundercats neck tattoo? Steve’ll sort it. Your beloved football club is crumbling like a bag of Frosties trapped between a polar bear’s thighs? Give Steve the job.
However, if there’s one sporting institution capable of curdling even the most assured recipe for success it will always be Newcastle United.
If you happen to be oblivious to terrible things, you may not have noticed that Newcastle currently sit in 19th place in the Premier League – a bloated, winless, slobbering abomination, gumming noisily at their two lonely points. At the helm of this sorry affair is Steve McClaren, a man whose CV bears all the cohesion of a pillowcase filled with tiny monkeys.
The Nuts and Bolts
In what will be a series of petty groin-punches, let’s start with the numbers. McClaren’s Newcastle are the worst in the league for shots on goal, the accuracy of their shooting and the number of chances created – they have fashioned 37 chances in 6 games, West Ham’s Dimitri Payet has 19 on his own.
But even if these stats make for ugly reading, it would perhaps be more surprising to see Newcastle doing well this season. Put to one side, for a moment, Mike Ashley’s malevolent grip on the club – cast from your mind the image of him relentless teabagging his overstuffed nuts into the hearts and hopes of the city. Even ignoring all that, McClaren is a peculiar choice as a redeemer. In terms of resuscitation, it’s like a paramedic humming Lighthouse Family songs in lieu of a defibrillator.
Let’s whistle through McClaren’s career. The highlights seem to be an, admittedly impressive, Dutch title win in 2010 with Twente, a league cup win for Middlesbrough and a thrilling run to the UEFA Cup Final in 2006, also with Boro.
Unfortunately, what punctuates these pretty decent achievements are prominent and prolonged periods of bungling. Taking the Wolfsburg job with a remit of challenging for the title ended in the sack, with the club sniffing at relegation like a schnauzer nuzzling the crotch of some heavily moistened lederhosen (and other German things).
In his time at Derby he took the Rams to within a tongue-poke of promotion only to lose the 2014 playoff final (to Harry Redknapp’s absurd QPR team) and then engineer just two wins in the final 13 games of last season to go from 1st to 8th in just a few crucial months.
Under McClaren, England missed out on qualification to Euro 2008. Even during his relatively successful spell at Middlesbrough his three highest Premier League finishes were 7th, 11th and 12th. As for that startling UEFA Cup run, it ended with a 4-0 spanking in the final.
It seems almost unkind to spell out a career that only ever seems to flourish under the lowest of expectations. If Twente was his greatest managerial achievement, it came at a point when failure, incomprehensible hair and an unwillingness to get damp were all that was expected of him.
Out of Toon
But there is another factor in this story, namely a group of players that could lose a water-balloon fight to a man made entirely of dust. Even the better players from last season’s dribble towards Premier League safety – Tim Krul, Daryl Janmaat, Jack Colback, Ayoze Pérez – have struggled so far this season.
In their 2-1 defeat to Watford, Fabricio Coloccini marked Troy Deeney as if the Hornets’ forward was made of fists and pointy sticks, while Moussa Sissoko and Pappis Cissé couldn’t have looked less interested if they were jet-washing a wheelie bin.
As for the summer signings, Georginio Wjinaldum has transformed from the Dutch Player of the Year into a handsomely paid Christian Bassedas. Aleksandar Mitrovic seems more interested in collecting shin bone fragments, while Florian Thauvin resembles a man skulking around the a chemist shop until it’s quiet enough to buy a massive tub of lube.
But, despite the universal awfulness of the performances, McClaren is still at the helm of a club that has spent over £50 million in the summer and has scored just 3 goals all season. Most worrying is that, so far, McClaren barely looks a better bet than John Carver – a man with all the managerial composure of a wasp trapped in a human anus.
It may be too early to bother with win percentages, but in the spirit of frothing, knee-jerkery let’s do it anyway. Carver’s win record is 15%, having won just 3 of his 19 games in charge last season. McClaren, almost heroically, remains at zero.
If we were being generous we would say that the mess Carver left behind is going to take more than 6 games and £50 million to put right. To be so bad for so long will paralyse any club, particularly one where the monthly sales of big mugs feature higher on the board’s agenda than the satisfaction of the fans.
Whoever else you choose to turn against – the sinister ownership, the dozy players, the Kinder Surprise approach to transfer policy – it’s hard to find a scenario where McClaren escapes the blame. It seems, with the kind of dissatisfaction that has become as synonymous with the North East as Jeff from Byker Grove, some Newcastle fans are going to need a bigger bedsheet.