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Redemption for Steve McClaren

Sunday 8th January 2012

It was a cold, rainy night in London. The wind howled, the rain lashed the turf and England supporters watched on glumly. No one will ever forget that night but not for the right reasons. It was the night Croatia came to Wembley and scored three times. It was the night England only needed a draw at home and couldn't hang on to one. It was the night England failed to qualify for Euro 2008 despite having a relatively easy group. It was the night that saw Steve McClaren become a national pariah.

For all he's achieved as a manager, Steve McClaren will forever be remembered as the England manager who failed to help England quality for a major tournament. Forever remembered as the ‘Wally with a brolly' as one tabloid newspaper dubbed him. As an abject failure who should be exiled from this very isle for good. And so, after being sacked the following day by the FA, that's what McClaren did. Looking back, this all seems extremely harsh and a pretty outrageous reaction in the long-term. The following set of Premier League fixtures after England's defeat saw the players booed by fans after every touch of the ball. Commentators and pundits slammed this but there were no tears for Steve McClaren. In the end the fans forgave the players as their form returned after it had deserted them on that wet night in October 2007. Even Scott Carson, whose terrible error gifted Croatia the lead in that game was welcomed back to the England set-up in a recent friendly. England fans have had to endure many disappointments over the years and yet other managers have been forgiven. Terry Venables failed to qualify England for the 1994 World Cup but is still thought of highly in this country; Kevin Keegan had a tough time as manager and yet is still considered a legend; even Sven Goran Erikson was applauded for his excellent season in charge of Manchester City. All of McClaren's previous achievements were also forgotten since that defeat: the fact he won several league titles as Sir Alex Ferguson's assistant at Manchester United; that he won a trophy with Middlesbrough and took them to a European final.  So Steve McClaren wondered off into the wilderness, who knew where he would end up and what he would do next – if anything.

Where McClaren would end up would be in Holland in 2008 and what he would do next would be coaching FC Twente a club with a modest history but one that had been on the up in recent years. No job in football is an easy one and SM would have to go some to replicate the achievements of his predecessor Fred Rutten who, after several seasons improving the side, had qualified Twente for the Champions League. McClaren's first challenge was to navigate the tricky qualifying stages for the Champions League group stages which would see him return to his homeland much earlier than expected. Wouldn't you know it but McClaren's Twente would draw English opposition in the form of Arsenal. Twente were dispatched quite comfortably 6-0 on aggregate over the two legs. SM was also mocked further by the English press after they got hold of him speaking on TV adopting a Dutch accent. The Tukkers just weren't ready for the Champions League football just yet, that would come later. McClaren would prove to be a revelation in his first season at Twente not only finishing second in the league – the club's highest ever finish and above giants like Ajax and PSV, no less – but they were runners up in the Dutch Cup and got beyond the group stages of the UEFA Cup. This extraordinary, almost fairy tale, first season in the Eredivisie saw many plaudits come SM's way – although he was slightly overshadowed by Louis Van Gaal who led AZ Alkmaar to the league title that season. Despite all this success, no one in England seemed to be paying much attention though.

As much as success in his first season is applauded, a football manager will always be judged on that all important second season at the helm. That he can not only maintain success but build on it as well is the tough test faced by the manager in his sophomore year at a club. It was time for Steve McClaren to take FC Twente to the next level. The club once more started the season having to pre-qualify for the Champions League group stages, this time they would face Portugal's Sporting Lisbon and, this time, would come even closer. Indeed the Tukkers came within a hair's breadth of victory before an injury time goal by the Sporting goalkeeper sent them out on away goals much to SM's disgust. Twente never looked back on this disappointment; an unbeaten start to the season saw them climb to the summit of the Eredivisie. Helped by summer signing and talisman, Costa Rican Bryan Ruiz, Twente stole a march on the chasing pack with important victories over their title rivals PSV and Ajax. Ajax, however, would catch up, pushing Twente neck and neck for the title. Only a point separated the two come the final round of fixtures with the scenario simple for Twente: win away at lowly NAC Breda and they would secure a first title in the club's history. Nerves were helped early on when Ruiz gave McClaren's men the lead but they would have to wait for Miroslav Stoch's goal fifteen minutes from time to make it safe. So there it was, despite Ajax also winning Twente were champions of the Netherlands. Steve McClaren, a pantomime villain in his home country, had gone to a foreign land and had success with a team that wasn't of the established order. Steve McClaren had become the first Englishman since 1996 to win a major league title. McClaren silenced a few critics that day and there was even gentle praise from sections of the English press.

Being an ambitious manager, SM decided it was time to move on. McClaren parted company with Twente in the summer of 2010, making the switch to Bundesliga outfit Wolfsburg. Considered a smart move by some, McClaren joined a club with high ambitions to challenge for the title again. Steve McClaren also created another bit of history by becoming the first Englishman to coach in Germany. However, Wolfsburg's form proved to be very inconsistent during the first half of the season and, after a particular bad run of games, McClaren was sacked in February 2011. His departure from Germany was a setback and in June SM would return to England to join Nottingham Forest. Perhaps returning home too early, McClaren's time at Forest proved a disaster. McClaren was said to have had the freedom to sign players but when the purse strings were tightened SM was none too pleased. Starting the season poorly, McClaren had had enough by October and resigned. This latest period of his career did little for his reputation in England and, after doing so well in Holland, SM was back at square one.

So what next? In order to get his career moving in the right direction again, Steve McClaren would return to the one place where he'd had the most success and where he was thought of extremely highly: FC Twente. After falling out with current coach Co Adriaanse, the Twente hierarchy hired McClaren to replace him on a two and a half year deal. Many consider the move a gamble for McClaren as they believe he cannot top the success he had before. However, there are arguments to the contrary. SM has a good relationship with the chairman and the fans; many of the players also remain from his first spell in charge. Twente are also still riding high in the Eredivisie table and still in with a shot at the league title this season. McClaren is surly also keen to coach Twente in the Champions League which he failed to do first time around. In the time since he left Twente, Steve McClaren's career has come full circle; from the highs of winning a league title to the lows of Nottingham Forest. SM doesn't deserve his reputation of being a national joke and England may have lost the services of a talented coach. But England's loss is Holland's (and maybe others') gain. Here's hoping Steve McClaren can replicate his success and once again find redemption at Twente.

Lee Clifford

Total articles: 8

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