Football moves in cycles. Alex Ferguson justified his repeated rip-it-up-and-start-again approach to continuity on the basis of great teams having a three-year lifespan, while the annual Liverpool/Arsenal boom-bust approach is equally well-documented. Elsewhere, stories are told about the buying and selling cycles of clubs like Porto and Ajax by ambitious chairmen before they panic at a relegation battle and bring in Sam Allardyce and/or Jermain Defoe.
The English national team used a slightly more holistic blueprint, pioneering a revolutionary system also since adopted by Tottenham, which goes like this: a demand for change to break out of stale mediocrity means a fashionable European "coach" is appointed to the role. Failure to produce a Fabergé egg from a cow's arse then leads to him being hounded out by the press for being a pretentious foreigner, and a back-to-basics no-nonsense good old-fashioned English manager comes in to helm the side, who achieves precisely the same and is hounded out for being an antiquated dinosaur, before the whole life cycle can begin afresh.
Steve McClaren had become so firmly associated with this constant pursuit of change as the solution to all problems rather than, say, quality or money or sanity. He seemed the most no-nonsense option imaginable – he'd worked under Ferguson, no fassy he, at his zenith. He was a Yorkshireman. And he'd had the classic route of taking a deeply unfashionable club on a memorable cup run. You see the limitations of this kind of thinking.
More than that, however, he was a perfect choice to be hounded out – his dour lack of inspiration, haplessness and of course the infamous brolly all screamed that he was out of his depth. As David Moyes was also forced to, high-profile failure led him to flee to the continent, where his excruciating mock-Dutch accent confirmed his transcension to a national figure of fun, no longer to ever be rumoured to taking over at Aston Villa or Everton, a bogeyman and the patron saint of terminally shite managers.
His return to the UK went largely unheralded and under the radar, going out with a whimper at Derby and Forest, leaving no memorable soundbites or images as England generally failed to give a shit what happened. It was an odd level of anonymity and sterility, such that the Wikipedia entry for his time at Derby gives special mention to his receipt of the "LMA Performance of the Week Award", presumably next to the 'Hobbies and interests: meeting friends and listening to music' section of his C.V. and the Most Likely To Look Like A Cunt In A Moment Of Nationally Televised Humiliation Award from Nunthorpe Grammar School.
Somehow, though, he now finds himself returned to the limelight and stardust of the Premier League at Newcastle United, a club of considerable size and girth. They may be possessed of a parasitic owner, but this is still the club of Shearer, Milburn, Andy Carroll and Tino Asprilla, the birthplace of legends, and in theory the perfect place to rebuild a flagging career or cast off an old epithet. John Carver was a worthwhile experiment, but proved dour with his moments of madness proving too extreme as he proclaimed himself the greatest coach in the league. McClaren can add a more believable air to his futile struggle against club and self.
At first, it seems to make no sense, but it does. First, let's look at what the man and the club have in common: Both are the exceptions to the rule about cycles, meandering forward on an erratic but general downward trend that never looks like achieving any sense of closure. Both are popular figures of comic relief in English football. Both are also often pictured standing, looking utterly miserable, in the rain, even if you're not going to see many umbrellas on the Gallowgate end.
It's not hard to see how the deal was concluded, either. That too makes perfect sense for all involved. McClaren gets a job at a big club to show what he can do, Mike Ashley takes someone desperate who he can bully around and enforce his whim upon, and everybody else gets to see the very image of haplessness manage a club that everybody loves to laugh at. Everyone's a winner – well, not so much Newcastle supporters, but what was it someone once said, about the greatest happiness for the greatest number of people? This is what the rest of us have been dreaming of. Try and show a little bit of North-East solidarity in response.
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