John Carver isn’t going to get the Newcastle United job. I know it. You know it. The players know it. The owner knows it. And if he’s being really honest with himself, the Magpies caretaker boss knows it too.
The 50-year-old is a passionate football man with black and white stripes (mythically) running through his veins but unfortunately, that’s where his credentials begin and end. There’s nothing on his CV, not a shred of evidence, to suggest the Newcastle United coach is up to the task of managing one of English football’s biggest and proudest clubs.
So, why is the club taking so long to appoint someone else as manager instead?
Managing director Lee Charnley seems incredibly chilled-out. There’s no rush he says. “If I have to wait until the summer for what I believe is the right individual, then I would rather wait,” he went on record to announce this week.
This, I think, would be a huge mistake.
Professional footballers, at all levels, are insecure creatures who crave stability.
It’s a short and fickle career where every season counts. One bad one, and your aspirations can be crushed, so there’s not a player around that doesn’t yearn for success or that precious feeling of being wanted by their manager.
Not knowing where you stand, who to talk to, or which person you most need to impress, doesn’t sit well. It can be strange and disconcerting. This is where Newcastle United’s players find themselves right now.
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Back in 1995 I was at Arsenal when Stewart Houston took the caretaker reins for three months. The Scot stepped up from his number two role and took charge from February until the end of the season, in between the George Graham and Bruce Rioch eras.
The abiding memory I have of that period is that the side ambled along on easy street. Knowing Stewart’s bark was worse than his bite - and that he definitely wouldn’t be their long-term manager - it felt like the players took a holiday of sorts.
While they did reach the UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup Final, the team’s Premier League form fell away badly, and I believe that’s because their edge had dropped. Stewart had a softer nature than the manager who’d just departed, so with the fear factor gone, everyone relaxed. It was almost as if nothing really mattered that much, until the new boss came in.
There’s a real danger this might be happening at St James’ Park right now.
When firm leadership isn’t in place, a dressing room will exploit it. On our post-season tour of Asia in 1995, I remember Stewart buying everyone a beer at the hotel bar and asking everyone go to bed as soon as they’d had it, because we had an early flight from Hong Kong to China the next morning.
That didn’t happen. Totally ignoring his request, as soon he went upstairs we all headed out onto the streets of Hong Kong for a night on the tiles. When several of the senior pros staggered IN from the night out just as we were waiting to board the bus to the airport, you had to feel sympathy for our caretaker boss! What could he say? The players didn’t see him as their manager long-term, so he couldn’t control them.
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Times have changed now of course, and I’m sure Newcastle players aren’t playing Carver up as much, but the premise remains the same. If a caretaker manager is in place for too long, footballers are likely to take their feet off the pedals. That sharp intensity you need to play your best football can easily disappear.
It’s right not to rush into appointing the wrong man, but Charnley and Mike Ashley need to be very careful. Leave it too long, and their dressing room could lose it’s way completely.
Footballers don’t like being betwixt and between, and on 27 points the Magpies aren’t safe yet.
It’s time for Newcastle United’s hierarchy to be decisive.
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