Steve McClaren seems set to be appointed by Newcastle United in the very near future and, as reliably as the sun coming up tomorrow morning, there’s been a mass reissuing of the series of photographs taking during England’s 2007 defeat to Croatia at Wembley.
I’ve always hated those. Not, you understand, because of any particular fondness for McClaren or admiration for his coaching ability, but because it was so reductive and so typical of how everything in football is presented.
Wembley that night was a dark place to be, figuratively and literally. The inclement weather and the scarred pitch suited the mood as a directionless, error-prone England fell spectacularly on their own sword.
And yet, what do we remember most about that night: the score? Scott Carson’s appalling error? Sol Campbell’s endless slide-tackle?
No, that one of image of McClaren: soggy, beaten, and clutching his umbrella.
It was just so…childish.
“The wally with the brolly” episode was a return to days of Graham Taylor’s reign and it represented the press at their most immature. It was the easiest, quickest, laziest way of throwing a manager under the bus and of creating a perception that has tarnished his career from that point on.
“Man uses umbrella in rain.”
Oh, the mirth…
Within a wider context, it’s merely another footnote in England’s achingly unsuccessful recent past, but it’s also symptomatic of the way we digest football at times. It’s so painfully superficial.
As a throw-away headline, sure, it had fifteen minutes of value but that almost a decade later it remains the dominant association with McClaren should be a source of acute embarrassment.
“Wolly with the brolly - it’s funny because it rhymes.”
We’re approaching Wimbledon fortnight and, reliably, at some point across the tournament, the crowd will titter at the sight of a pigeon fluttering around centre-court.
The McClaren moment belongs in the same category. It’s something that simple people still describe as ‘brilliant’ and a reference point for those who prefer to LOL rather than laugh.
Steve McClaren is a good appointment for Newcastle. He’s not a game-changer for the club and he’s not a dramatic enough change from what’s gone before to suggest that Mike Ashley has converted to a new direction, but he is a significant improvement. Yes, his career has featured as many successes as it has failures, but he’s known to be very capable head-coach and, at the very least, he portrays Newcastle as an actual footballing entity once again.
That’s the first step. McClaren is not Joe Kinnear or Alan Pardew or John Carver, all managers who - at the time of their respective appointments - had no credible right to be in the Premier League, and there’s no evidence to suggest that, like his predecessors, he will be little more than a human flak-jacket.
He is an actual manager. A real - apologies - football man.
That’s progress at St James’ Park. In a better world, one in which Ashley had a true intention of progressing his side, McClaren probably would be an underwhelming appointment and a club of Newcastle’s size could be accused of low-balling their supporters, but this isn’t that place.