It’s true that Steve McClaren hasn’t enjoyed a good start to life as Newcastle boss. In fact, that would be a grossly generous assessment of the former England manager’s time on Tyneside thus far.
It’s been horrible. The Magpies are winless in the Premier League and were knocked out of the Capital One Cup by a Sheffield Wednesday side that fielded 10 changes.
Sure, most sane Newcastle fans would have expected a defeat at the Etihad on Saturday, maybe even a comprehensive one. The fact that a 6-1 scoreline wasn't over surprising is testament to the level the club has come to be associated with.
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But it’s not really about how great Manchester City were – or rather Sergio Aguero – it’s about the poison that courses through the club.
A point against a faltering Chelsea didn’t fool anyone into thinking the club had turned a corner. It doesn’t matter what system is employed, what multi-million pound players sign on the dotted line, not even what manager takes the reins to a degree.
It’s the attitude. An attitude that Mike Ashley bred because he trudges mere commodities through and out the door. These players are just passing through, nothing more. St James’ is a pit stop to them.
The defeat to Manchester City typified such sentiments. Aleksander Mitrovic’s scored inside 20 minutes after a compact and hungry Newcastle took the game to City. The Toon, with the bit between their teeth following the goal, continued to bombard the home side’s final third for the next twenty minutes with Newcastle not only leading a title contender, but looking good value for that lead too.
Then, Aguero started to play. And Kevin De Buyne did too for that matter.
One setback spawns a plague in this Newcastle United side, because no player has the desire or will to fight when it’s not all rosy.
Alan Shearer was quoted on Match of the Day as saying the performance was “embarrassing” and the club has a “losing mentality”.
Shearer went on to claim “it doesn’t hurt enough” for the squad when they lose.
It’s incredibly hard to argue those points. Eight games in, we’ve seen previous little to the contrary.
The club is run like a business, not a trophy hungry driven football club. Ashley has worked so hard on making financial strides, that in fairness, the club needed, that the whole culture is intrinsically absent.
The transfer policy in itself is purely money motivated. The idea is to buy young players to give them the platform and thus exposure necessary to grow and be sold for a much greater profit.
The imports earn are typically offered big money to be lured to the north east instead of being fast tracked to a Champions League club’s fringes. It’s a model that Yohan Cabaye, Jose Enrique, Demba Ba and Davide Santon amongst others have taken full advantage of. All moved to bigger clubs, for bigger money.
Look at Hatem Ben Arfa; current joint-top scorer in France’s Ligue 1 with Nice scoring some of the incredible solo goals that endeared him to the Geordies in the first place.
He’s a talent that was terribly mishandled and the fans never wanted to see leave. HBA should have been a staple that the club built around, but instead, his affinity with the supporters and match-winning talent was allowed to fade into the free market with the fans being subjected to cheap imitations in Remy Cabella and Florian Thauvin since.
Newcastle do not buy young players to build for the future like Arsene Wenger or even Brendan Rodgers have done, or at least tried to do. They buy to then sell. It’s a dynamic that makes it impossible to build a side with an ethos or character. No one’s invested in the journey; the end game isn’t what Newcastle can achieve, it’s the next move on the horizon.
McClaren can try and apply any system he likes to this crop of players and they’re still heading for the trap door. Too many players who showed they were incompetent for the club to progress last term, retained their places in the squad.
Instead of supposed ‘big name, big money signings’, they should have been meshed with reasonable, smart and proven additions like Kieran Trippier, the Ayew brothers, Jonny Evans, Allan Nyom and Victor Moses have all represented their respective clubs this season.
The club should have strayed away from as much of last season’s squad as possible, but instead, the traces of that suicidal attitude fuelled by Ashley’s true ambitions continue to stain whoever tries to steer the ship.