Steve McClaren’s long goodbye at Newcastle can’t go on any longer

Steve McClaren gets a pat on the back as he leaves the training ground yesterday
Steve McClaren gets a pat on the back as he leaves the training ground yesterday

Act in haste, repent at leisure.

Newcastle United, more than most clubs, know that to be true.

They spent more than £100million and I think it will be another difficult match.

Claudio Ranieri

But its unwillingness to put Steve McClaren out of his misery, while at the same time negotiating with his likely successor, has been extraordinary.

Day after day, McClaren, seemingly resigned to his inevitable fate, has been turning up at the club’s training ground not knowing if he will still be the head coach by the end of the afternoon.

And day after day, he has returned home.

McClaren, it’s clear, can’t be in charge for the Leicester City game on Monday night.

It’s gone past the point of no return.

Yet the club, in advanced talks with Benitez, hasn’t formally sacked him.

Why?

It doesn’t make sense.

There are other coaches at the club who could take charge on the training field, and even against Leicester, while negotiations continue with Benitez.

It’s humiliating for McClaren, a decent man whose best hasn’t been good enough for the club.

While sympathy for his plight on Tyneside is tempered by the knowledge that he will get a significant pay-off, there’s a bewilderment at the way his departure has been strung out.

It doesn’t reflect well on the club.

Should talks break down, there’s no way – is there? – that McClaren could be in the dugout at the King Power Stadium.

The well-informed Sky Sports News yesterday suggested that McClaren would be sacked.

Newspapers, including this one, have reported on the discussions with Benitez, and his interest in the post, this week.

The question isn’t “if”, it’s “when”.

McClaren, however, headed home to Teesside yesterday afternoon.

There was no face-to-face meeting with Lee Charnley, the club’s managing director.

The only person at the club to speak publicly was Jonjo Shelvey, who was interviewed by Sky Sports ahead of the Leicester game, which is being broadcast live.

Shelvey, handed the captain’s armband by McClaren, backed McClaren, which wasn’t surprising given that the 54-year-old had pushed for his signing.

“It’s a sticky situation that we’re in, and he’s at the forefront of it, which he doesn’t deserve,” said Shelvey.

“It is what it is. We’ve got to play for him while he’s still in charge and hopefully he stays in charge.”

Training, according to Shelvey, has been “professional”.

McClaren has tried his best to keep things normal, even though the situation is anything but normal.

Asked how “difficult” it was for the players to prepare for the Leicester game given the uncertainty, Shelvey added: “At the end of the day you’re getting paid a load of money to do your job.

“That is your job – to keep yourself away from the media and the rumours that go around.

“You can’t listen to that. You can never believe something until it’s happened.

“We’ve been very professional this week. We’ve trained really well.”

Well, it hasn’t happened yet, though the situation could quickly change.

But the club, surely, should have done the right thing by now.

Benitez, offered a long-term deal by United, could yet be in charge for the Leicester game.

Maybe, just maybe, Newcastle could upset the odds at the King Power Stadium with Benitez in charge.

Leicester manager Ranieri, meanwhile, chose to deflect questions about his league-leading team’s title hopes by talking about United, who he feels are “dangerous” opposition.

“They spent more than £100million and I think it will be another difficult match,” he said.

Ranieri also had some bad news for United.

Winger Riyad Mahrez, outstanding in Leicester’s 3-0 win at St James’s Park earlier this season, is fit to line up against Newcastle, having suffered nothing more than cramp against Watford.

Benitez might just have a plan to stop Leicester, Mahrez and Jamie Vardy.

And the frustration at McClaren’s long goodbye will quickly dissipate should the club conclude talks with the Spaniard, out of work since January when he was sacked by Real Madrid.