With the inevitable sacking of Steve McClaren another sad chapter in the history of English football closes.
Let us analyse what went wrong?
York born McClaren’s CV shows that he played as a midfielder at clubs including Hull City, Derby County and Oxford United. After injury curtailed his playing career he took up coaching, initially with the Smith ‘Twins’, Denis and Jim, and then he was appointed Alex Ferguson’s assistant in 1998.
The only club he managed was Middlesbrough from 2001 to 2006 combining that with various jobs at the FA. The only honour he won was the League Cup in 2004 – Boro’s first major trophy.
The England manager’s job is unique. He has to manage a team but has no players to work with on a daily basis. He has the pick of the nation’s players but he has to combat the club versus country arguments of senior managers in the Premier League. And although he has the expectations of the nation on his shoulders he has only perhaps a dozen games a year to produce a world beating side. This is totally different to the job of a club manager and requires a special type of person.
Steve McClaren took up the job of England head coach on 1st August 2006 with great acclaim from the Football Association but he was not their first choice by a long way. They had tried for Felipe Scolari, Martin O’Neill, Alan Curbishley and others before plumping to appoint former boss Sven-Goran Eriksson’s number two.
Because he was not the number one choice Steve immediately had the tabloid press on his back. Previous England managers had been hounded in the past especially Graham Taylor and Glen Hoddle. Without the support of the press a difficult job became so much harder.
McClaren started the job of qualifying for Euro 2008 in what was not considered a difficult group. Russia and Croatia were thought to be fighting for second place behind England with the Israelis as outsiders. Andorra, Estonia and Macedonia were the minnows in the group.
McClaren’s early squads showed that he had decided to dump the experienced members of Sven’s sides. Out went golden boy David Beckham, Sol Campbell and David James mostly replaced by earlier fringe players such as Shaun Wright-Phillips. After an expected easy home win over Andorra and a 1-0 win in Skopje over Macedonia everything seemed rosy but things went wrong in October.
Firstly Macedonia came to Old Trafford and got a deserved goalless draw. Steve showed his inexperience and tactical naivety by not being able to make the necessary changes to turn the game around. The loss of these two points was to prove crucial in the end. Things got worse on the following Wednesday when England went to Zagreb to play Croatia and lost 2-0 in the most shambolic of performances. The sight of Paul Robinson kicking out at Phil Neville’s back pass will live with most of us forever.
After a 0-0 draw in Israel, England won their next five Group F games all by 3-0 and everything seemed the rosy. But after defeat in Moscow when McClaren’s side could not hold on to a half time lead and were overrun in the second period and the farce of Wednesday night at Wembley, England failed again. Failing to reach a major final for the first time since the 1994 World Cup and winning only 9 out of 18 games meant both manager and assistant were given their P45s (with a massive pay off cheque).
So where did he go wrong?
He tried to change the side by jettisoning the old guard too quickly. He should have kept them around to bring on the new members.
He did not go for youth he went more for players who had been around for a while – the only success of this policy was the emergence of Gareth Barry, which was really more by luck than judgement.
Form did not seem to matter to Steve. Examples include goalkeeper Robinson who continued to play despite poor performances for club and country. Stuart Downing was a permanent substitute having shown nothing in previous games.
He was powerless to control player power in the dressing room. A number of big name players are believed to have dictated on tactics etc.
He did not get to watch enough games in the Premier League and chose to focus on the big four. He only came to Fratton Park once!! When Pompey were always in the top half of the table and had a number of English players.
He would never admit to his mistakes or learn from them. He did say after his sacking that he was a better manager now but it has not shown in the team performances.
He appeared tactically naïve being unable to turn round vital games by formation tinkering or the use of replacements. He had Terry Venables, a respected tactician alongside him but did he ask him or listen to his advice?
Strange selections for key games my favourite being his reason for selecting Scot Carson against Croatia – ‘Scot has performed best in training and deserves his chance’. The decision which ultimately cost him job based on how a keen young player performed on the training ground. No mention of the word ‘experience’ which was badly needed in the heat of battle. I have little doubt had David James played England would have kept a clean sheet.
So were now for England? Who should they appoint? The pundits go for Mourinho, O’Neill, and even Shearer but none of them have any International management experience. Would a better option be to go for the journeyman national coach like Phil Scolari, Gus Hiddink or Roy Hodgson? More of a worry is that Brian Barwick is in charge of the appointment and he hired McClaren.
And what about Jobless Steve? He has drunk from the poisoned chalice that is the England manager job who will offer him a chance back in club football? Birmingham perhaps? In a quote from Thursday he said ‘I will recover, bounce back and wait for my next challenge. I’m not one to lie on a beach’.
And for England the World Cup draw takes place on Monday. The bad news is that they have slipped to twelve in the FIFA rankings and will only now be a second seed. This means we will be in a group with a nation ranked higher than us. It could be Greece but it could be France or Italy.
Let’s hope we are not in this position again in two years time. England have only ever won one major championship so we should be used to under achieving. That win of course was the world cup of 1966 – I was there, well the Quarter Final – we did have to qualify and all games were played at Wembley. Maybe we will have to wait until 2018 for more success.
Written by eastneydave.
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