As he is want to do, Jose Mourinho made some controversial comments after Chelsea’s 2-2 draw with Newcastle on Saturday. The Portuguese said - and I’m paraphrasing - that the hosts’ performance was typical of a side who are never likely to win anything and that their “pick and choose” approach to the games with big sides are essentially a tease.
Mourinho is the dullest man in all of football and doubtless his comments were intended to divert attention away from another poor Chelsea poor performance, but he has a point - that kind of display is rather typical of what Newcastle have become.
It’s only September and there are no sensible conclusions to be drawn about Steve McClaren or his rebuilt squad, but it’s irritating to watch this habit repeat itself year-on-year:
When the cameras are on and the opposition is famous, look how hard those players try and look what they suddenly become capable of.
In time, maybe McClaren will lead the club to a glorious renaissance and that criticism will become redundant and unfair, but it’s too easy to draw parallels with similar results under Alan Pardew. That team, for all its limitations, made a habit of performing admirably against Chelsea and, occasionally, Manchester City and Arsenal and yet, in the more winnable games that were more pertinent to the club’s general direction, those same players needed little encouragement to tune out.
It’s not a situation which is unique to Newcastle United, but it is a symptom of what the club has been allowed to become and a reflection of what the aims and ambitions at St James’ Park are. As mentioned, maybe McClaren is emblematic of a new approach, but for the moment this team is still a victim of its own culture. When a club casts itself as a waypoint for ambitious players and as a holding-station for talent that seeks to prove itself for the sake of its own interest alone, this is the result.
No career has ever been furthered by a big performance against Sheffield Wednesday or by a home win over Watford, yet reputations have been built on a single, ninety-minute roasting of an established full-back or on the containment of a prolific forward.
That mentality doesn’t evaporate within a single Summer. The Mike Ashley regime has bred that toxicity over many years and it stands to reason that the fumigation will subsequently take time. Ashley’s presence has never been more peripheral than it is now and the air isn’t quite as thickly bitter, so maybe this is the start of some sort of recovery?
And maybe McClaren does have the tactical answers and the transfer strategy to return Newcastle to their rightful place within the hierarchy, but his first job - and his most important - is to cure the “me first” mentality that festers at this club like untreated damp.