Back in February I started a piece about how Steve McClaren missed his chance to truly "change the culture" left behind by his predecessor when he refused to remove Fabricio Coloccini as captain of our club. Even beyond that, the fact that he (with a straight face no less) had claimed that re-signing Colo was our best signing of the summer. Likely I was tired of complaining about the club and McClaren and the performances on the pitch and all of those things that you are all well aware of as you had done them all yourselves at that point in the year.
We have since seen the back of McClaren and every part of that singe decision has put us exactly where we are as we head into the last two matches of the season fighting for our Premier League lives once again. When Rafael Benitez took over our club – with seemingly not enough time to accomplish the impossible – Chancel Mbemba was injured and our new manager set about finding a replacement defender from within the squad. The hopeful belief would be that he was searching for a short-term replacement for our "best summer signing" once Mbemba returned. As it turns out, Mbemba would return and Coloccini would succumb to an injury. In the meantime, Rafa tried out one time "Saylor for England" object (remember that time he got called into the England squad?) with calamitous results and he was forced into looking even deeper down the Newcastle United depth charts. Enter everyone's new favorite Magpie.
Jamaal Lascelles and Karl Darlow were brought to Newcastle in a sign-and-loan deal from Nottingham Forest and were kind of lost in the shuffle due to mixed results during their time on loan with their former club. Lascelles in particular was in and out of the starting XI due to form questions. He didn't completely stand out on the pitch during Newcastle's hastily arranged and lackluster tour of the US. Based on that (and first-hand scouting knowledge from McClaren's time with Derby last season) it was not entirely surprising that he started the season way down the depth chart.
The Steve McClaren-era Newcastle United squad was often ponderous and seemed to be without a genuine leader on the pitch. Captain Coloccini was never that guy that would raise his voice or gesticulate or get stuck into underperforming teammates during matches. It turns out, it seems, that the fans' thirst for such a player was not misplaced. When given his chance in the first team squad at long last, Jamaal Lascelles did exactly what we had all been thirsting for. This young player who had struggled at times in the Championship just a year ago stood up and told Newcastle's team dotted by internationals and (relatively) long-term associations with his club that they were not doing the job. And he did it again. Coupled with good performances on the pitch, he became everything that the captain should have been.
In hindsight, it's easy to sit here now and say "man, Jamaal should have been playing this whole time." There were reasons and assessments that went into that initial decision. What is easier to see is that a Coloccini-led defense and team were atrocious last season and were atrocious for most of this season. There was obvious need for change and McClaren did not have the courage to make it. It ended up costing him his job.
Heading into the final two matches of the season, Newcastle United may just survive. If it happens, it will be in no small part to Rafael Benitez and his Eric Cartman socks. In an equal part, it will be down to the young forgotten center back brought in from Nottingham Forest who finally got tired enough with his ballyhooed teammates that he did what was needed. He became the voice from within the locker room saying "This is enough. We must be better." When Newcastle were in Sacramento, seeing Lascelles in person. There are many types of emotions that you feel when you're seeing the players of your club in person. I was giddy to meet Tim Krul and Daryl Janmaat (you know, last year's Daryl Janmaat). I tried to avoid a picture with another player I did not rate. When I looked at Lascelles I felt hope that he would come good, but also saw something about him. He just held himself differently. His presence was probably on the south side of commanding, but could be described in that vicinity. Based on that, it's not surprising that he is everyone's new favorite Magpie. If only Steve McClaren and his staff could have seen it the same way.