Five things Steve McClaren has to tackle at Newcastle United

The new Newcastle manager takes over a side that nearly got relegated but, writes Martin Hardy, his biggest problems might be in the boardroom

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The Independent Online

Buy a decent centre-forward

Newcastle have a history of top-quality centre-forwards, players who bring the city to life. They don’t have one  at the minute. They haven’t had one for a while. Papiss  Cissé limped his way to become the club’s top scorer last season, but the Senegalese striker is likely to be gone come the first game of the new season.

Former manager Alan Pardew told the board he needed a main striker last summer – and got Emmanuel Rivière from Monaco. Rivière scored one goal in the Premier League. Players like Andy Carroll and Demba Ba have been sold and those in charge of the club twice failed to sign Loïc Rémy permanently.

If Newcastle do not have the firepower, it will be another season of sorry struggle in the Premier League. Steve McClaren worked with the likes of a motivated Mark Viduka and Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink at Middlesbrough. There is nothing like that at St James’ Park right now.

Become part of the recruitment process

Pardew’s frustration grew during his four years as manager at Newcastle because he had precious little control over who the players were that he would have to forge into a team.

It did not matter if he wanted a powerful central defender or a free-kick specialist. He got what he was given and had to get on with it.

If McClaren is to have any success, there has to be an acknowledgement from the owner, Mike Ashley, that his manager must be more involved. Graham Carr, the influential chief scout who has dropped a few duds in recent transfer windows, needs to work closely with those who actually sit in the Newcastle dressing room and understand its dynamics.

Stand up to the board

Pardew’s departure at the turn of the year did not anger the Newcastle support and that was because he would not take on the club’s board. It is a dangerous strategy, especially with anyone as prickly as Ashley, but is a vital element of the manager’s armoury. The Newcastle team is everything to the fans and no one in power at St James’ fights hard enough for it.

Pardew knew the problems but never confronted Ashley over them. Newcastle fans have been brought up on managers such as Kevin Keegan and Sir Bobby Robson, men who fought for the team and therefore fought for the supporters. If McClaren is subservient, drifts along with the controversial owner and watches silently through another failure in the transfer market, he has a rough ride ahead.

Sort out his captain

You knew the situation at Newcastle had descended into farce last season when the club’s temporary head coach, John Carver, started waving about a bit of paper written by Fabricio Coloccini just to prove the captain had actually finally ended his silence and made a statement. Newcastle is a club without leaders right the way through it. McClaren has to find a new captain and explain what that position entails, about leading from the front and interacting with the supporters through the media.

The new manager also needs to end the club’s ridiculous ploy of hiding the squad away from journalists. The players were hated by the fans at the end of last season, seen as mercenaries who hid from their responsibilities.

Newcastle fans want to know who wears their shirt. The club hiding them away does not do anybody any favours.

Play attacking football (and stop losing to Sunderland)

It is not a myth that Newcastle fans want attacking football. It’s true – it is also true of most clubs’ supporters.

At times under Pardew the style of play was moribund. There were some thrashings – Liverpool at home, Arsenal away, Sunderland twice – but in a way just as bad were some insipid displays, times when the supporters wanted the shackles taken off.

For whatever reasons, there was a lack of trust towards flair players such as Hatem Ben Arfa, Rémy Cabella and Sylvain  Marveaux.

That needs to change. Newcastle have had their best times in recent years when the team have played on the front foot. To that end, having a go in a derby, and ending the historic run of five successive defeats to Newcastle’s biggest rivals, would probably be a start.

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