In the end, the "new era" of Mike Ashley looks set to begin with the appointment of Steve McClaren as the eighth permanent manager to take the helm of Newcastle United under our oxford-shirt-wearing overlord.
After a job search that spanned six months and generated more than 80 applications, managing director Lee Charley and chief scout Graham Carr will reportedly opt for the conservative candidate when McClaren's hire becomes official next week. While the former England manager's credentials aren't anything to sneeze at, his appointment feels like an opportunity missed. The Toon Army is desperate for a bolt of electricity and optimism. McClaren was not the hire to put fans back in their seats at St. James Park, or — on this side of the pond — make us eager to set those early morning alarm clocks.
Nevertheless, all cause for optimism is not lost. Here are a few things the former Derby County manager must fix from last season to inject some much needed "feel-goods" throughout the Newcastle nation:
Identify tactics that will bring out the most in the squad handed to him
McClaren knows what he's getting himself into in joining Newcastle United presented by SportsDirect.com. He will not have any control over personnel moves, despite an apparent "war chest" awaiting the 54-year-old. That job belongs to Carr, who is essentially a good-ol'-fashioned American-style general manager. Carr will select the players for McClaren to coach, just like in the States, where the GM controls the roster moves. There will be new players coming in (allegedly), but McClaren's task will be to quickly decipher the strengths and weaknesses of the new personnel and formulate a game plan to get the best out of the squad assembled for him.
Rumor has it McClaren is an excellent coach — he's gotten praise from the likes of Phil Neville, and he was famously handpicked to be Sir Alex Ferguson's No. 2 at Manchester United. Lifted of the burden of player transactions, McClaren could excel concentrating solely on shaping the first team.
The Englishman must be tactically flexble, and avoid the pitfalls of the previous regime — namely, jamming square pegs in round holes. Too many times during Alan Pardew's reign, players were played out of position to fit Pardew's preferred formation. The tension between Carr and Pardew has been well-documented. Did the former manager select lineups in spite of the players Carr signed for Newcastle? Potentially. This cannot happen under McClaren.
For the club to go forward, the GM and coach need to be simpatico on player acquisition. The "head coach" needs to be creative with the talent he receives, and put his players in positions for team success.
Sort out the back line and stop making me drink whiskey before noon
I'm not going out on a limb by saying Carr and McClaren need to first and foremost focus on rebuilding Newcastle from the back. Unquestionably, the backline was the area of the field that regressed most last season, allowing 63 goals — the second-highest number in the Premier League; only last-place QPR conceded more goals. Goalkeeper Tim Krul had a down year in both whoscored.com and eyeball analytics. To be fair, Krul was let down by a not tremendously fearsome foursome of center backs. In fact, the best performer of the group was a converted left back.
The stats for the backline are gruesome. They kept three clean sheets in 2015 (NUFC's only wins of the second half of the season) and conceded multiple goals in seven of their last 10 matches.
There will probably be plenty of personnel movement on this side of the field during the offseason. Newcastle’s captain is in the twilight of his career, Mike Williamson should never see the field again for NUFC, and Steven Taylor cannot be trusted to stay healthy for more than a month. Players are needed at center back, and would anyone be shocked to see Tim Krul take his gloves elsewhere?
New defenders are coming in, and it would behoove McClaren to spend a little extra time on this side of the field in training. The quickest way up the Premier League table is to shut off the faucet that leaked goals last season.
My liver thanks you.
Start the season off strong to get the fans on his side
The easiest way McClaren can get the Toon Army on his side is to simply win games. Well, duh, way to state the obvious; but nothing silences an angry, boycotting crowd better than a few early wins. For all the huff and puff about the Pardew era at St. James' Park (mostly by observers who didn't, well, observe Newcastle much during the final year of his reign), the man stopped winning matches. Last season, Pardew's NUFC didn't win its first Premier league match until Oct. 18.
We don't need a reminder of what happened last season, that is, unless we've surgically removed it from our memories.
Get the best player on his side
Without debate, Moussa Sissoko is the most polarizing player currently employed in black and white. On his day, he can dominate a Premier League match with the Agueros, Rooneys and Hazards. However, more often than not, his play resembles more of the Cattermoles.
If Newcastle United's No. 7 came across a newspaper in between games of FIFA this offseason, he would have read a name he most assuredly idolized growing up linked with the Newcastle job. Alas, he wakes up with a manager who once faked a Dutch accent.
If McClaren is to have any success on Tyneside, he must unlock the powerful potential of Sissoko — and not only get Sissoko to play well, but play consistently well. Take a look at Sissoko's rating according to whoscored.com: his form all too often rises and falls like a ride at Great Adventure.
Seems simple enough. Newcastle needs its best player excelling week in and week out if the team is to have any success. The Magpies were 10-5-3 in matches where Sissoko earned a rating higher than 7. When the midfielder's form dipped, so did his team's. In matches Sissoko rated lower than a 7, the Toon was 2-11-4. Additionally, in matches Sissoko registered a goal or assist, NUFC was 4-1-2.
First order of business for the new man in charge should be to get Sissoko focused and motivated. Hopefully, with Euro 2016 on the horizon, there is a well-placed carrot to dangle in front of our powerful midfielder.