"You're never close enough and you never have enough preparation time," said Newcastle United head coach Steve McClaren following the end of the club's hastily arranged American tour, a 4-3 loss to Timbers 2 at Providence Park in Portland, Oregon. Everything about the establishment of the McClaren era was everything that has been wrong with the club and how they worked with the club management staff. Delays in getting the backroom staff in place. Last minute player acquisitions... not just depth players, but players who had been tabbed to be first-team contributors. A harbinger of things to come, however, the quote set up the defining motif by which McClaren will be remembered. Excuses.
The club had so much time to bring in an ultimate replacement for Alan Pardew. Having left at the turn of the New Year, there was plenty of time for the club to "get it right", whatever they felt "it' was. Four months later and a last day relegation escape, they still did not have a coach in place, having preferred to give a manager who was out of his depth every inch of rope with which to hang himself. Just like they would ultimately do with McClaren. Months of "we're close" and "encouraging performances" followed by a sprinkling of "not good enough" and "putting in the hard work" saw the fans of the club grow tired of McClaren pissing on our legs and telling us it was raining.
The last four days have seen media reports grow exponentially with regard to McClaren's future. What we know is this: as of this very moment, McClaren is still the head coach of Newcastle United Football Club. We know that everything in the last several years of evidence shows us that the club (again - if they change nothing) will likely hold on to McClaren. Whether it's proving a point or hubris or what, they gave Alan Pardew too much time and John Carver after him. We know that the club are loathe to react in any sort of positive way to the desires of the fans. We could be standing here 24 hours from now with everything exactly where it stands right now. McClaren as coach. Rafa as the dream of a fan base clinging to anything that could be interpreted as some sort of blind hope of Premier League survival. But...
Newcastle United owner Mike Ashley promised prior to the last-day escape against West Ham United last season that investment would be made in the club. Investment was made to the tune of some £80m. Some of that money was spent very wisely, such as the fees payed out for Chancel Mbemba. Some of that money (I'm looking at you, Florian Thauvin) was a waste. Ultimately accountability for the rather large failures is going to have to come down on Graham Carr, but the evidence is out there. Perhaps Mike Ashley is ready to start spending some of the money that the club needs to see Premier League viability. It's a tenuous thread upon which to hang hope. In nineteenth place with 10 matches remaining in the Premier League season, it's a hope worth having.
Today, rumors are intensifying that Rafa Benitez is in talks with Lee Charnley and Newcastle United to become the next manager (yes, manager- not "head coach") of the club. Yes, yes - this is weird as McClaren is still currently sat in the head coach's seat. Why should they start doing things the way everyone thinks that they should at this point, though? A move for Rafael Benitez is going to require wholesale change in the coaching philosophy of Ashley and his leadership team. Benitez will require the title and powers of manager... none of this head coach nonsense. He is going to require control of transfers. In a word, he is going to require the club to abandon everything upon which they have built their vast, relegation-fodder empire. Good. It is too long coming.
If you reject McClaren's assertions that the club are actually making progress – which if you are watching with your eyes, you must – then you know that there is no way that McClaren is the man to keep this club up. If you accept that reality, then you understand that Mike Ashley must start driving trucks full of cash to Rafa Benitez post haste. Whatever he wants, the club must hand it over immediately. It will be in their best interests in the short term as well as the long term. They have the ability to bring in a manager who has won the Champions League. A manager that has won the Europa League. He is unequivocally the most qualified manager the club would have employed since the great man Sir Bobby Robson.
If it comes to nothing, we won't be surprised. Nightmares rarely end when you want them to. Maybe, though... just maybe. If Newcastle United are to be anything near what we all know it can be, Mike Ashley and Lee Charnley must do everything in their power to make this happen. If they don't? We'll have had 12 hours of hope and then it's back to the head-down numb drudgery of watching the club we love slip down the drain. Unfortunately, if they keep McClaren, we already know he doesn't have what it takes to bring a club up from the Championship. With the playing squad in a far different place than it was when we were relegated in 2009, the likelihood that we would bounce right back again seems very very low.
Give McClaren every penny that he wants to go away. Give Rafa every penny he wants to come in. 10-match contract. Relegation escape. Whatever. We don't demand a club that wins... we demand a club that tries.