Amid the grim scenes of mutiny at St James’ Park on Saturday, it was difficult to say with confidence that Newcastle’s short-term issues are salvageable. They have taken seven points from their last 11 league games and kept one clean sheet in their last 13 matches. During the game against Bournemouth, one Newcastle supporter told me that the barrel had again been scraped lower than ever before. This was a new low in a five-year slump.
Since a 1-1 draw at Burnley on December 2, 2014, Newcastle have lost 20 of their last 25 away league games. Won three, drawn two and lost 20; it is comically bad. “We’re sh*t, and we’re sick of it,” fans supporters chanted on Saturday. You can see their point.
The common consensus is that Steve McClaren will lose his job, and may already have done by the time you read this. Newcastle’s manager is entirely vindicated in his accusation that the club’s “players need to step up and not enough are doing that”, but the buck will eternally land last on the manager’s desk. Even McClaren’s bizarre position on the board of the club is unlikely to save him.
Having been backed to the tune of £75 million in transfer expenditure, McClaren could hardly plead patience. “Steve McClaren, you’re taking us down,” was the the angry prediction from home supporters on Saturday, and they’re right. The club’s form has got worse throughout his tenure. Is this the last time we see that incredible island of quiffed auburn hair in the Premier League?
The last time Newcastle paid to relieve a manager from his current employment was Graeme Souness in September 2004, so we can safely assume that McClaren’s replacement will be out of work. While Rafa Benitez and Brendan Rodgers surely have their sights aimed slightly higher – rightly or wrongly – it is the name of David Moyes that is most logical.
Moyes has inevitably been bruised by his experiences at Manchester United and Real Sociedad, but it would be cruel to consider him unfit for this task. His time at Anoeta was undermined by his inability to speak fluent Spanish, a foolhardy move on his part. Yet there was a bravery in the move that hinted at his keenness to atone for his Old Trafford debacle. It’s harder to be out of your depth when you’re standing in a puddle. Replacing McClaren is a damn sight easier than following his former mentor Alex Ferguson.
Despite the deep resentment towards McClaren, all is not yet lost. Newcastle are one point inside the relegation zone with a game in hand (admittedly against Manchester City), and still have home games against Sunderland, Swansea and Crystal Palace. They are also still to travel to Norwich and Aston Villa, completing the bottom-six collection.
Newcastle also have comfortably the best squad in the bottom six, aided by January signings with enough quality to aid a recovery. Their apparent lack of motivation under McClaren reflects badly on them as well as the manager himself, but allows for realistic hopes for an instant improvement. Moyes’ ability to organise a defence and add steel to a flimsy back line will be crucial in surviving relegation. If the relegation battle is to be a simple case of three from the bottom four, it is a job made for Moyes.
If the attraction to Newcastle is clear, there are valid reasons for Moyes to welcome the offer too. No situation in football – and particularly not at St James’ Park – can accurately be described as no-lose, but Newcastle does afford a new manager a wonderful shot at hero status. Supporters liked Chris Hughton and appreciated Alan Pardew’s early work if not his personality, but the last manager they truly loved was Sir Bobby. Being the man to lead Newcastle out of the doldrums would be enough to redeem even Moyes’ reputation.
Newcastle would have struggled to persuade Moyes to take the job after Pardew left for Crystal Palace, so to still have a chance after John Carver and McClaren’s handywork is evidence of the club’s size and fanbase. This could be the perfect solution for both parties.
Success at a Premier League club below the elite, before spectacular fall when given the chance in an extremely high-profile job and subsequent attempt at redemption abroad. If Newcastle are to follow football’s typical lead of lurching between managers at opposite ends of the spectrum, replacing Steve McClaren with David Moyes is entirely illogical. Their careers have followed a distinctly similar, if unusual, pattern.
Yet Newcastle do not need a lurch. Supporters already feel bilious enough at their club’s underperformance without adding motion sickness to the list. Rather than a sexy toyboy or tanned lothario, they need the steady divorcee, loyal and well-meaning. Both Moyes and Newcastle are damaged goods, determined to find love again.
Newcastle wanted Steve McClaren to be better. Alas, it wasn’t to be. They now need a Steve McClaren, but better. Much, much better.