Following last season’s train wreck, Newcastle United’s fans have amultitude of reasons to be excited about the 2015/16 campaign.
To start with, installing Steve McClaren as their new manager is a greatdecision, for he’s a man with vast experience who loves the game and isn’t afraid to try things. Plus, you know he’s always up for a challenge, his time in Holland and Germany depicts this suitably.
While he endured some joyous highs and desperate lows throughout theserespective stints, he, unlike many British managers, impressively had theself-confidence to test himself and give it a crack.
His Dutch title with Twente was undoubtedly the highlight, with thisincredible achievement holding extra significance as it was the first in the club’s history. His time at Wolfsburg, where he only lasted ninemonths, signalled a disheartening low.
For an Englishman to even obtain the top job with the 2009 Bundesliga champions was a massive achievement in itself, though. After all, when he took over he became the first Englishman ever to manage a top flight German side. The Volkswagen owned outfit knew he had the talent, for winning the Dutch league with a team other than PSV or Ajax showcased his tremendous capabilities.
Although things didn’t work out for him in Germany, with the Diego-PatrickHelmes penalty debacle sealing his fate, the experience definitely made him stronger and further broadened his knowledge.Even though his time at Derby ending sourly too, his tenure at the Championship club still had an overriding sense of positivity attached to
it. In spite of yet another setback, the man who rose to prominence courtesy of his excellent work as an assistant under Sir Alex Ferguson at Manchester United, and then subsequently at Middlesbrough, whom he took to League Cup glory and reached the Uefa Cup final with, remained in demand.
McClaren never doubts himself and his powers of recovery are rather impressive. Following his failed England tenure, he worked wonders at Twente. Then, after torrid times at Wolfsburg, Nottingham Forest and in his second stint at Twente, he eventually got himself back on track with the Rams.Now at Newcastle, you know he’ll be striving vigorously to get the clubback to where they belong. Bringing in the highly-rated young Scottish coach Ian Cathro, from Valencia, is another huge addition. Leaving Champions League-qualified Valencia and his great mate, Nuno Espirito Santo, wouldn’t have been an easy decision for Cathro to make, but the 29-year-old obviously saw the opportunity to move to the Premier League, and to work with McClaren, as impossible to resist.
“Steve coming in has brought a freshness and enthusiasm to get the club back to where it should be and serve the love that exists for it,” Cathro said.”I’m convinced that it’s a club willing to grow and would be comfortable higher in the league. It’s now ready to do that.”
McClaren’s philosophy is rather interesting, in that he clearly understands the realities of the cash-flooded world of modern football, where instant success is highly sought after, but also has an insistence on developing those already at the club. The terrific signings of Aleksandar Mitrovic, Chancel Mbemba and Georginio Wijnaldum have been tempered by McLaren’s desire to retain faith in the side he inherited, as he illustrated in Newcastle’s league opener, against Southampton, where he played nine of the club’s pre-existing players.”I’ve always liked making players better. Newcastle United want stability and someone to take them forward. Hopefully I can be that man,” he said.
Arguably the most intriguing and important of the club’s captures that has been that of Wijnaldum, who cost a whopping £14.5 million. Amid interest from some of Europe’s elite clubs, acquiring the Dutchman was a real statement of intent from the Magpies. A clear sign the Tyneside outfit means business this season and weren’t afraid to splash the cash show it.Upon explaining why he chose to make the switch to Newcastle, Wijnaldum noted his clear admiration for McLaren and his philosophy as defining factors, before going on to note how impressed he was by McLaren’s effortsback in Holland.
“He wants to always play football and score a lot of goals. He told me his plans the way he plays, and that’s why I chose Newcastle,” mused the former PSV star.”He is a trainer who makes players better. That’s why I have faith in himand chose Newcastle. I heard some stories about him from players who trained with him atTwente and I spoke with him on the phone before I signed. He has a big reputation in Holland. Twente had never been champions before he arrived. He brought the club to a higher level and has a big name there.” On the surface, at least, the move appears a really great fit. And if Wijnaldum’s promising debut is anything to go by, it looks like it will be a successful one too.
Lining up in central attacking midfield, the 24-year-old’s presence ensured Newcastle played some beautiful football in stages, which would’ve pleased their long suffering fans to no end. Many even felt the display was better than anything they’d witnessed over the entire course of last season. Using his unique set of attributes, the Dutch international showed glimpses of his creativity, technical quality, vision, athleticism and movement, which gave Southampton plenty to think about throughout.
When Newcastle were in possession he buzzed around laterally and vertically, always scanning for little pockets of space that he could utilise. Southampton’s central midfield duo of Steven Davis and Victor Wanyama found it very difficult to mark him, for his nifty movement meant he never stood still, which added an extra layer of variety to his game and therefore confusion for his markers.
Whether it be when he searched for space in true central midfield positions or when he did so in true number 10 positions, his movement meant he was always an available outlet. His ability to identify space both in front of and in behind Southampton’s central midfield pairing to made him a persistent nuisance, and one the the Saints ultimately struggled to nullify.
In addition, Wijnaldum’s quick thinking enabled to him to notice his teammates’ movement and subsequently duck into the space that they’d left behind. Some fine examples of this arose in situations where Papiss Cisse would drop deep, with the intent to provide a link between the attack and the midfield. As soon as Wijnaldum observed Cisse coming, he would cunningly sneak in to the space that was now unoccupied, as one of the Saints’ centre backs inherently followed the Senegalese striker.
Little moments like this were testament to just how brilliant he is in between the ears. He was always thinking, always switched on and always on the lookout for openings that could be exploited. This all parlayed to illustrate his sublime understanding and appreciation of space, which, in turn, saw him able to knit the side’s attacking phases together
His goal on 48 minutes was an apt accompaniment for his industrious afternoon of work. Here, following a Southampton turnover, Gabriel Obertan embarked on a speedy surge upfield that was wonderfully rewarded by a delightful Cisse ball over the top. With the ball still bouncing Obertan produced a remarkable cross that was adeptly finished home by Wijnaldum, whose delicately placed glancing header was a thing of beauty. More than that, Wijnaldum’s run from his own box to even get into a position to score demonstrated his sheer desire to provide an option. He willed
himself, sprinting relentlessly across the hallowed turf, in what was an utterly memorable way to mark his debut.
“I sprinted from about 60 metres, Gaby’s cross was great and I ran to the front post and put the header the other way, to the far post,” he said. “When the ball left my head I was just willing it to go in, and when ithit the back of the net my first thought was to celebrate with the fans,and with Gaby, too, because it wasn’t an easy cross to make.
“The noise in the stadium was amazing. I had heard a lot of good stories about the atmosphere and the songs they sing, so to hear it properly andfor my goal, was something special.”
It’s this sort of athleticism and penetration from deep that makes him such a dynamic, multifaceted threat. In terms of the attacking side of thegame, he can do it all. Wijnaldum’s one of those rare breed of players who combine power and finesse masterfully.
He certainly endeared himself to the Newcastle faithful with his accomplished showing. His energy, astute passing and capacity to beat his man by way of his magical dribbling talent will be sure to provide them with plenty more joy as the season rolls on too. Although the £14.5 million outlay from the Magpies was hefty, it’s undoubtedly money well spent, for in Wijnaldum they have a midfielder who blends the attributes of number 10 and a traditional central midfielder so effectively. He’s a man with a solution for any problem, and that’s what makes him so special, especially in a world where deep and regimented defensive lines are often the norm.
McClaren sums him up accurately, saying: “He brings tempo, quality on the ball, he scores and has adaptability in midfield. I knew him well in Holland – he killed my team a few times!”
Newcastle used to be known for their French connection, but now it’s all about their Dutch revolution. Wijnaldum’s undeniably the leader of the new and exciting project the club is installing. With the new boss’ knowledge of this part of the world and his aesthetically pleasing philosophy, the Wijnaldum-McClaren partnership looks to be a match made in heaven.
And that’s most definitely a good reason for the die-hard Newcastle fans to be feeling a real sense of optimism about the campaign ahead. After last season’s failings, they deserve a team of which they can be proud, and with Wijnaldum and McClaren now steering the ship, that pride should be restored.
About the author:
Edward Stratmann writes regularly about the on-field aspects of the game,
with a particular focus on tactics and analysis. In addition to featuring
on These Football Times, Inside Spanish Football, Anfield Index, Just
Football, The Eagles Beak, Think Football Ideas and JuveFC, you can also
find Edward’s work at Licence to Roam, a football blog he started with his
brother in 2013.
Web address: http://www.licencetoroam.net