Managing Newcastle United is one of the toughest jobs in England. You have all the glitz and glamor of the Premier League, but a miserly owner, ever-improving competition, and fans that vacillate between near-apathy and being incredibly demanding. It's a chaotic place to try to make a living, but it's the one that Steve McClaren, long-presumed hero of English football, decided to step into and find success in.
After years of mediocrity and staving off relegation, Newcastle brought in McClaren hoping that he could spark a revolution of sorts for the Tynesiders and push them up the table. After a summer that saw Newcastle spend big to bring in a few exciting talents, fans felt there was plenty of reason for optimism and hope. That was especially true with McClaren in charge, as he had long been thought of as a savior of English football thanks to his successes with smaller teams and with teams abroad, something few English managers have done in recent years.
But Newcastle find themselves stapled into the relegation zone in dismal form, and when you actually go back and look at McClaren's record instead of assuming it's all as shiny as you hope, we really should have seen this coming.
Yes, McClaren won the League Cup with Middlesbrough and finished second in the UEFA Cup, then went on to win the Eredivisie with FC Twente. But when you look at the rest of his tenure with those clubs, and throughout the rest of his career, you see one consistent thread: teams with talent that play boring football and fall well shy of expectations.
Many fans forget that McClaren's tenure as the England national team manager was so disastrous that they failed to qualify for Euro 2008, leading to his dismissal as the shortest-term England manager yet, in charge of just 18 games in 16 months. Many fans forget that, despite two excellent years in the Netherlands with Twente that saw them win the Eredivisie, his next job with Wolfsburg in Germany went so poorly that he was fired just six months into the season. His next job, at Nottingham Forest? He resigned after winning just eight points in ten games. His second stint at Twente was painfully mediocre despite spending a ton of money. At Derby he helped build easily the strongest team on paper in the Championship, but failed in his first season to get them promoted -- then failed to even make the promotion play-offs in his second season. Shockingly, he was fired for that.
Still, despite all that mediocrity and failure, McClaren retained an almost bizarre mystique around him with English fans. "He's a cultured and experienced manager who's won abroad, he'll save English football!" is a refrain we've heard variations of for years, despite mountains of evidence to the contrary. So when Mike Ashley hired McClaren to manage Newcastle last summer, the reaction was exceedingly positive and excited.
Then Newcastle failed to win in their first eight league matches, and the bloom was off the rose.
And really, it shouldn't have been hard to see coming, given McClaren's track record and Newcastle's summer transfer business. Yes, they brought in a lot of exciting young talent, but they brought it in from Ligue 1 and the Eredivisie and Belgium's Jupiler League, all of which are places that players coming from tend to struggle to adapt to Premier League life. Shockingly enough, those players have all struggled for much of the season, and with the rest of Newcastle's squad being the one that finished just four points clear of relegation and then sold several quality players, their standing seems about right.
The simple fact is that McClaren was never going to save Newcastle. Perhaps no manager could have -- poorly run teams like Newcastle are always a steep challenge -- but McClaren in particular was always poorly suited to the challenge. No matter his reputation, a manager with his track record was never going to save a team struggling against relegation. Maybe McClaren could have done better with a team that had more talent and a degree of safety, but the same could be said of almost any manager.
Newcastle's only possible saving grace right now is that they're one of four truly terrible teams in the Premier League this season. If they can manage to be slightly less terrible than two of them -- poor Aston Villa are already essentially guaranteed to drop -- Newcastle can stay up. If they do, though, it won't be because of anything McClaren did. He's now gone, his reputation bruised and battered because of a job he could never have succeeded in. May the next man to take on the mantle of managing Newcastle have better fortune, for Lady Luck never smiled on Steve McClaren