Newcastle United have been flirting with relegation all season, and as a result, Steve McClaren’s place in the St. James’ Park dugout has been under scrutiny for some time. The vast majority of the Toon Army have been calling for him to be ousted for months, and following the club’s 3-1 home defeat to AFC Bournemouth on the 5th of March, their wish was granted. The only question many people are now asking – has the change occurred too late to save The Magpies’ Premier League status?
After the club confirmed that the wally (with and without the brolley it seems) would be departing, they acted swiftly to appoint former Liverpool and Chelsea boss Rafa Benitez as McClaren’s successor. Of course, many are wondering why such a manager would want to take over a team in such dire straights, but the move may prove to be a clever one by the Spaniard. There is absolutely no denying that Newcastle United are a prestigious English football club and the newly appointed gaffer will be determined to ensure they are not a Championship side come the summer.
Where did it go wrong for McClaren?
With the former England boss being backed with significant funds prior to the current campaign getting underway, supporters would have been hoping for a push for European football. However, despite spending £52.1 million over the summer before then splashing out a further £29.5 million (more than the entire Bundesliga) in the January transfer window, as well as acquiring Seydou Doumbia om loan from AS Roma, the side have fallen way short of expectation under his stewardship. Currently they are lying precariously close to the bottom of the league in 19th place with only 24 points to their name. However, they do have a game in hand over their fiercest of rivals, Sunderland, who sit just above the relegation zone in 17th position with 25 points.
Practically everybody within the footballing circles has been left baffled in regards to Newcastle’s failings so far this term, but where exactly did it all go wrong? Some supporters would say team selections were the major reason for the collapse, some would say that the players have underperformed, others would just categorically lay the blame with McClaren and his alleged inability to manage. There is no doubting that a squad consisting of talents such as Georginio Wijnaldum, Moussa Sissoko and Aleksander Mitrovic should not be languishing in the lower ebbs of the top flight. Only 6 wins have been recorded all season and they have only found the net on 28 occasions – worrying times on Tyneside.
During his final game in charge versus Bournemouth, he looked desperate on the touchline and the way his team lined up caused confusion amongst fans. Following substitutions being made in the second half, supporters found it difficult to work out what formation was being used and the players down on the pitch looked clueless also. This has to bring his man management into question surely as it seemed the players looked dejected and devoid of direction under his authority. Maybe many people’s opinion that he is more equipped to be a coach as opposed to a manager is correct.
Can Rafa be the saviour?
With ten remaining fixtures still to be contested, the club have acted just in time and Rafa now has a huge task on his hands. The 55-year old is the only manager in history to have won the UEFA Cup, UEFA Super Cup, UEFA Champions League and the FIFA Club World Cup – his experience at the ultimate level of football is unprecedented, but will he be able to handle a relegation scrap? That is the question that a host of Newcastle fans will be asking, as will the world of football media.
A trip to the league leaders will prove to be his first challenge as The Magpies’ boss and if he inspires his players to pick up a positive result, that would send out a huge statement to the rest of the strugglers. Following the encounter at Leicester City, his side welcome bitter rivals Sunderland to St. James’ Park before going toe-to-toe with Norwich City away from home. Undoubtedly, these two meetings could be season defining for The Toon and if they could miraculously win them both, they would be firm favourites to avoid the dreaded drop into the Championship.
English fans know the quality that Rafa possesses and his record of winning silverware shows he has the prerequisites of a man who can save Newcastle. He is well known for his attention to detail when it comes to pre-match preparation and this could stand him in good stead, especially when trying to stifle the likes of Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez or expose a weak Norwich defence. A tendency to be ruthless could also work in his favour as he attempts to galvanise a group of players who have performed below their capabilities so far this season. It could turn out to be a wise appointment by Mike Ashley and the Newcastle United board, but time will tell as to whether The Magpies will be flying into next season with their Premier League status intact…
*Information correct at the time of writing.