When Steve McClaren is confirmed as Newcastle manager this week, the reaction is going to be largely negative.
He hasn’t worked in the Premier League for nine years, has endured a few high-profile failures since then, declined an offer to take the job in May at the height of the club’s relegation angst and was just sacked by Championship side Derby after slumping from first to eighth in the final 12 games.
However, there are two reasons why Magpies fans should retain optimism about the prospect of the former England boss taking over at St James’ Park.
The first is that while McClaren has suffered severe setbacks, he has also achieved things that very few tacticians interested in this post can rival. He was assistant manager of Manchester United’s treble winners, led unheralded Middlesbrough not only to their first trophy but a European final too and has won a league title, once more with a team – FC Twente – who had never been there before.
The 54-year-old’s greatest successes all came at moments like this one, when he had a point to prove and a lot of people telling him that he was no good.
Everything that he delivered at Middlesbrough was done in his maiden gig as a number one, ridiculing the theory that he would be exposed upon going solo, like Old Trafford predecessor Brian Kidd.
McClaren took the FC Twente job because he was unwanted in England following his national team flop and became one of just two coaches in the past 34 years to win the Eredivisie with someone other than Ajax, PSV or Feyenoord. The other was the mighty Louis van Gaal.
He struggled to build on that fine feat, with underwhelming spells at Wolfsburg, Nottingham Forest and back at FC Twente causing his career to stagnate, yet he again recovered when a brief acclaimed stint under Harry Redknapp at QPR opened the door to a managerial return at Derby in 2013.
Despite inheriting the Rams in the bottom half, McClaren lifted them to third, losing a play-off final to QPR in which they were comfortably the better side. Even their ultimately disappointing eighth place in 2014/15 saw them collect 13 more points than in any of the five seasons predating his arrival, and they didn’t have to invest too exorbitantly for that improvement.
The second reason why the Toon Army should be tentatively positive is that, for all his early disasters, Mike Ashley got his previous two permanent appointments right, and on both occasions they were left-field choices who didn’t immediately feel worthy of the position.
Chris Hughton was a very risky pick for their first Championship campaign in 18 years having never been a full-time manager before and won only once in ten matches as caretaker during the relegation effort, but he claimed the title with a massive 102 points.
He exceeded expectations so much so that his dismissal with the club 12th in the Premier League the next season caused more uproar than his hiring. Three sides in the top two divisions have seen fit to recruit him since.
Hughton’s successor Alan Pardew was an even bolder pick given his recent sacking by Southampton in League One, yet Newcastle came fifth in his first full term – which remains their best of the past 12 years – and he was named Premier League Manager of the Season.
In his latest role at Crystal Palace, he inherited a squad in 18th place after 20 games and guided them to their first top-half finish in the top tier in 23 years.
If you suspect that Ashley has outwitted the experts again, you can find odds of around [3.2] on McClaren vindicating his selection by achieving a top-ten finish.