Steve McClaren asked to be judged after his 10th game in charge of Newcastle and already they are reaching for the black cap. Game 10 is the derby against Sunderland, the one club in the Premier League that is arguably more incompetent than they are. By then, Sunderland will have a new manager.
Should Newcastle lose the derby – and they have failed to win any of the last seven – then they, too, are likely to be looking for a new leader.
McClaren was supposed to be a fresh start. After the mess of John Carver, whose only qualification appeared to be that he was a Geordie, McClaren represented proper management values and was allowed to spend £50m in the summer rather than the cheap recruits from the French leagues that the chief scout, Graham Carr, had been relying on to fill the squad.
And yet, after a 6-1 rout at Manchester City, which saw Sergio Aguero score five times in the space of 20 minutes, all McClaren could do was survey his dressing room and say: “There is a team in there somewhere.”
What he meant was that Newcastle had played well to hold Manchester United to a goalless stalemate at Old Trafford, should have beaten Chelsea at St James’ Park and were leading Manchester City three minutes before the interval. “We scared them in the first half,” he said. “But they petrified us in the second.”
McClaren spoke of needing “fighters”, but a glance through the team sheet revealed precious few candidates. The Geordie nation was represented by a mixture of foreign footballers who, by now, would be wondering what they had signed up to. As one of them, Daryl Janmaat, said: “Aguero is a very good player, but you can’t allow him to score five times. We know it is tough in the Premier League, but you have to play 100 per cent, otherwise you get killed.”
This is now Newcastle’s worst start to a Premier League season. Curiously, their previous worst, in 1999, had been ended by an 8-0 crushing of Sheffield Wednesday that had seen Alan Shearer score five times. By then, Newcastle had already parted company with their manager, Ruud Gullit, and his “sexy football”.
Aguero shares Shearer’s hunger in front of goal – this was his sixth hat-trick for Manchester City and it would be hard to imagine an easier one. His manager, Manuel Pellegrini, remarked that he should be compared to Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. After going to see Messi’s dietician, Guiliano Poser, who advised him to cut out pasta, sugar and meat from his diet, Aguero has steered clear of the muscle injuries that had plagued him at City.
“He always makes important contributions,” said Pellegrini. “Three years ago, he decided the title in the last three minutes of the season. Last season, he was the top scorer in the Premier League. I think he will finish his career with some important achievements. I think after Messi and Ronaldo he is the best player in the world.”
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