Thankfully results have gone the right way and I can write the post I wanted to write rather than having to think of something else. Two-and-a-half years ago I wrote a post slating Steve McClaren for being the worst England manager ever. I was so bitter at the whole England farrago that I initially wanted to see him fail at middle-ranking Dutch club FC Twente, and oh yes I laughed like everyone else at his cod-Dutch akshent in that early interview. But it’s actually been far more satisfying to watch him succeed.
I have huge respect for what McClaren has done. I’d dismissed him as a managerial lightweight – an impression which he didn’t entirely dispel with his apparent obsession with PR. I still think he was the wrong appointment for England and that his tenure was pretty dismal, but I’m happy to say that I underestimated him. It would have been very easy for him to lurk around, wait for a job to come up at the next Premier League club to get into relegation trouble, and try to rebuild his reputation from there. Instead, he did what very few English managers dare do: he left our nice, comfy, big-man-up-front, honest-physical-game, the-lads-gave-110% football culture and took the plunge into another one.
I’ve often heard it said that the rest of the world sees most English coaches as laughably behind the times. Foreign players have spoken of their amazement at how basic their approach is to training, tactics etc. We moan about English managers not getting given top jobs in their own country: certainly, part of the problem is that the big clubs want managers with a track record, and there aren’t any English managers with a track record any more because they never get jobs at big clubs and so it’s become self-perpetuating. But maybe it’s also because English coaches just aren’t good enough?
In going to Twente, McClaren sought to solve both these problems: he’s expanded his horizons beyond the English game (and understandably gone off the radar of the English press) and has started building an impressive track record. The Dutch league may not be as strong as its 1970s glory days, but in terms of the relative strength of its teams it’s not that different to the Premier League. Holland’s small population means that a lot of clubs based in provincial towns have nowhere near the supporter base necessary to bankroll a serious title challenge. These clubs’ best young players are routinely hoovered up by the Big Three – Ajax, PSV and Feyenoord. Until this season, those three between them had won all but two Dutch championships since 1965 – the year Twente were formed from two other clubs. One of those clubs had a championship to its name, from 1926. The modern Twente have never won the title. Until yesterday.
McClaren’s Twente have fought off a resurgent Ajax and dropped just 16 points all season. That’s a superb effort, on a par with what Kenny Dalglish did at Blackburn and without the cash injection – and as I’ve written those words I discover that McClaren made the exact same comparison. Well, he’s entitled to do so. He’s also entitled to tell people like me to piss off, but I offer him my congratulations anyway. If he keeps this up we’ll hear the calls we never heard first time around: McClaren For England.