WITH all the subtlety of a flower-clutching former suitor ringing the doorbell of a recently divorced old flame, Steve McClaren broke his media silence to announce he is ready to return to the cut-and-thrust of top level club management and Newcastle fans choked on their stotties.
Amid the acres of news print weighing up the runners and riders jostling to be next to rule themselves out of the battle for the St James’ hot-seat one name was conspicuously absent. The press fell over themselves to champion an Englishman who has won nothing but got results playing direct football with bargain bucket imports and veterans in a like-for-like swap for Allardyce while Martin O’Neill, Alan Shearer and Mark Hughes all had advocates too.
But the domestic boss who probably ticks the most boxes – Steve McClaren – got barely a mention in the fevered speculation… until he thrust himself into the broadsheet spotlight in a bid to rehabilitate himself and advertise his availability after recharging his batteries.
The ex-England chief had kept a low profile since a wave of bile was directed at small screens across the country at the sight of him pathetically holding a brolly aloft at Wembley to keep the rain from leaving his thinning Titian locks and his international dug-out tenure washed out. He was last seen signing off unapologetically at a hastily arranged kangeroo court from which he departed with his reputation dented but a big enough cheque in his back pocket to cover any damage to his ego.
But amid the hysteria over the soap opera sacking of Fat Sam and the on-going speculation over his successor McClaren opted to thrust himself back into the spotlight with an interview in the Times in which he declared his readiness to return to the fray.
And while the Geordie faithful may scoff at the suggestion, the one time Boro boss could well end up being the perfect candidate for the job. In fact, it could be designed for him. Many wild-eyed Toon fans who have swallowed the spin about “the eighth biggest club in the world” may want Mourinho or Lippi but the brutal fact is that they will not come. They are holding out for Real, Juve, Inter and Barca, or failing that one of the other G-14 glamour club. Reviving a long slumbering strapping six footer is not the kind of challenge they are looking for.That is why the tabloids are reeling out the usual suspects for the job.
But Martin O’Neill is just starting to see two years work at Villa come to fruition and has money to spend to fine-tune his team. Why would he set aside his much publicised family needs to start again in a pressure cooker of a job? Mark Hughes is in a similar position, barring a recent blip, and besides, if his star coninues to rise he may well have his eye on Old Trafford. And Harry Redknapp? He is settled on the South Coast, is on the verge of a magnificent achievement in taking Pompey into Europe and as his bus pass looms does he need the hassle? He is a shrewd operator though and can probably find a way of translating the attention and any approach from Newcastle into a loyalty bonus to stay at Fratton park.
Newcastle sources have hinted they want an English manager which means they are working in a very limited market. As soon as they add that they want someone with a track record of winning trophies then the list becomes shorter still. Presumably they don’t want Howard Wilkinson, Brian Little or Howard Kendall. Which leaves who exactly.
Steve McClaren could put an impressive CV together. In fact, measured in terms of trophies, finals and semis he is the most successful domestic manager in two decades. Crazy but true. Real big clubs may dismiss the League Cup but when you have passed the Golden Jubilee of the last real trophy domestic triumph it starts to look like a major achievement. Be under ni illusions as to how that would go down in the Bigg Market. Throw in the UEFA Cup final, a share in the England achievements of the rehabilitated Eriksson and a cheeky claim for some imput into Manchester United’s 1999 treble and it is starting to stack up.
And there’s more. McClaren publicly revealed that an approach from Newcastle when Bobby Robson was sacked so shabbily left his world “turned upside down” for a week, an undiplomatic slap across the chops for Boro fans that drove another nail in his coffin at the Riverside .
Plus the almost impossible demands of the Newcastle job demand someone who is thick skinned and brass necked and we saw at both Boro and England that Mac is a pachyderm who could outspin a spider and put a brave face on even the most unmitigated disaster. If only he could find an audience willing to believe.
And he has compelling economic arguments on his side. Whereas Harry or Hughesy or O’Neillsy could cost ÃÂ£3-4m in compensation on top of the ÃÂ£6m they gave Fat Sam to go away, Mac is available on a Bosman style free. He won’t cost a penny, leaving all the more to waste on journeymen defensive midfielders.
Maybe equally useful is that almost all of the backroom team his would demand are already in place. Steve Round and Paul Barron are already at St James along with an appliance of science army of nuritionists, psychologists, sociologists, Prozone analysts and Feng Shui experts. If they take on Mac then Newcastle won’t need to pay them all off and replace them all with chirpy Cockneys and they are quids in. Go on, give us a laugh. You know it makes sense.
COULD Boro get Rafa sacked? The Liverpool boss is under pressure from above. The league is beyond them barring a miracle and the scraping through in the Champions League was far from palatable given the ÃÂ£50m expenditure in the summer. Having had a public spat with the owners there is a fragile peace but you still get the impression that one big slip up and the axe will fall.
Liverpool escaped giving that excuse as they stumbled to a draw with Luton. Could Boro make lightening strike twice and ‘do an Arsenal’ on the Scousers? Let’s hope so. Incredibly the rookie Gareth Southgate is the eighth longest serving boss in the Premiership. Victory could see him climbing up that table as well.
COME ON BORO!