At Ewood Park today the traveling contingent of Newcastle fans cheered their team and manager on – a refreshing change from the mob baying for blood in recent Newcastle home games.
Despite a promising first-half showing (and taking the lead early in the second), Newcastle weren’t a match for Blackburn – not up front and certainly not at the back. The easy explanation is to point to the injuries and a lack of confidence, but when it comes to recent insipid performances, the blame is laid squarely on the manager’s tactical ineptitude and his apparent inability to motivate his players.
It seems that in the aftermath of England’s shameful exit from the Euro 2008 qualifiers, any team that does not play with the tactical awareness of Argentina, the attacking flair of Brazil and the all-powerful passion of the England team of 66 does not deserve to play at all. Fans are still misled by that 7th placed finish a couple of years ago, proof that as a phoenix rises out of the ashes, Newcastle too could overcome injuries and misfortune (and, indeed, a crap manager) and use their will to win to overcome all odds.
Poetic, perhaps, but short-sighted to say the least. Passion may be the X factor that takes ‘almost-there’ teams from good to great, but Newcastle aren’t even approaching middling. To assume that passion could do the job is to overestimate the Newcastle players, and the last thing this bunch of injury-ravaged, morale-sapped players need are unrealistic expectations.
Sam Allardyce was brought to Newcastle for two reasons – one, he had helped his players over-achieve, and two, his off-the-pitch experience in managing players was excellent for a manager of his standing. To put it another way, Sam was brought in to make an average squad over-achieve by making them fitter and making them work harder.
Before you go off on a rant, remember that this is not as easy to achieve as it sounds – it took time at Bolton, and it’s going to take time at Newcastle.
There are two key charges leveled at Sam by Newcastle fans – tactics and motivation.
Tactically, some of Sam’s decisions have been questionable – however the same charge could have been leveled at Martin Jol, who had been able to deliver two 5th place finishes. Sam’s not the best tactician and he’s not going to get everything right, but to expect Newcastle to play as well as the current Blackburn and Everton sides is madness – both Moyes and Hughes have had considerable time with their squads (and difficult paths till now) and what you see in those two teams is the rewards of investing in the long-term.
Newcastle are not going to go into the Champions League with Sam Allardyce – but then again, that shouldn’t be the goal anyway. Newcastle’s first priority is stability, second is to rebuild with a view for seriously challenging for the 4th spot in the next 3 years. Given Newcastle’s performances so far, I think we can give Sam more time to build this squad for the long run, so that when the time comes a better manager can be called upon to take them from the Uefa Cup to the Champions League.
The second problem was that of motivation, but how do you expect players to stay motivated when the people they’re playing for are heaping abuse at them? The idiotically passionate fan may argue that the fans are everything, but not every player is psychologically uplifted by hearing his own fans telling him to fuck off. In times of need, the players and the manager need support, not criticism.
A backlash from McClaren’s failure? At least Ashley isn’t the sort of fellow to take rash, short-term decisions. If Sam Allardyce can manage a top-10 finish in the current season (against much tougher opposition than 2 years ago, mind you), then that would be mission accomplished, no?