McClaren Endemic of Clubs’ Failings

by Sam Wheatley

Tuesday, October 4th, 2011

I remember so very well where I was when Steve McClaren was stood stony-faced beneath an umbrella in the pouring rain as England surrendered their opportunity to feature at Euro 2008. I was in a pub in Holloway in North London, and the patrons of the establishment had come together under a cloud of false hope. I tried my best to remain upbeat with everyone else, but there was one determining factor that stopped me from getting too carried away as England fought to claw their way back into the game. That factor was of course McClaren himself, the man whose fortunes are more prone to unintelligible change than the very weather that made that Croatia game so iconic in describing the plight of that particular England set-up.

If England’s fortunes have arguably varied since McClaren’s departure all those years ago, then the career of the man himself has taken on an almost bipolar identity. Let us not forget that his Middlesbrough team had an impressive run in the UEFA Cup (as it was) and won the League Cup in 2003-04. Despite those impressive feats with a second-tier club, the England job seemed to be slightly above McClaren’s gaze. The truth is that despite his days as right-hand man to Sir Alex Ferguson at Manchester United, McClaren was always unlikely to be able to generate the kind of respect necessary to succeed as an England manager.

Never a man to stay down for too long, McClaren was soon back in management with FC Twente of the Dutch Eredivisie and remarkably led them on to win the league in 2009-10. Despite finding his feet in management once again, the ever-ambitious McClaren decided to take on another managerial position beyond his gaze at Wolfsburg in the Bundesliga. Wolfsburg had been German champions just a couple of short years before McClaren’s arrival, but Super Steve certainly ensured that miraculous achievement was not to be repeated. At least, not on his watch.

McClaren lasted less than a year in Germany before he was unceremoniously given the boot and left jobless again. However, in the summer of this present season, Nottingham Forest had a punt on the man with a record so hit-or-miss it would make a coin toss look like a decidedly uneven competition. This decision was to be repaid with 8 points in the first 10 games of the Championship. McClaren, now used to collecting his P45, decided to jump ship rather than wait for the axe to be wielded, citing the failure to capture two Premier League players on loan as the reason for his departure. It makes no odds, and you feel it would have made no difference if McClaren’s Forest weren’t performing so far below expectation. As a side note that is nonetheless important in discrediting this most recent managerial stint, Forest made the play-offs last season of course.

The one inalienable truth in McClaren’s career is that he is rather better with the underdogs than with teams that expect success. Whether it’s a tactical naivety or a dismal inability to command respect, when it comes to analysing McClaren’s managerial career there is little else that stands out positively than his time at Middlesbrough and at FC Twente, both clubs that had no intention of appointing McClaren for the success that he delivered. Rather more they would have seen him as a steward, a conduit for the transition to future success.

But he acts as no such thing. His record is evidence that his appointment can only be a lack of ambition. Bigger clubs must by now be aware that he is incapable of handling the pressure when the stakes are high, and the smaller clubs also aware of this will not be employing him in the vain hope of unexpected success but because he is simply available, and an inexpensive steward. Until it becomes time to sack him of course. The figures published by the LMA that suggest that clubs forked out almost £100 million changing managers last season represents this dichotomy of too much ambition or not enough. McClaren’s faults might be plain to see, but the top brass that employ him are also culpable for his failures.

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