Date: 24th November 2007 at 12:19am
Written by:

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.

Job Description

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.

The Press

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.

The Future

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.

The views within this article are the views of the individual who wrote and submitted this piece, sometimes solely theirs. They are not necessarily shared by the Vital Pompey Site Journalists.

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19 Replies to “Spineless to Jobless – where McClaren went wrong”

  • quality article as ever dave, most enjoyable read and very much true – couldnt agree more with the reasonings behind where he went wrong.

  • barwick should have been the next to follow spineless out of the door – the fellas at the fa have got off far to easily, they are a disgrace…

  • Spineless shouldnt ever have been given the job in the first place! Would love to see HR in that job, but then again, would I, cos it would mean we lose him!

  • im with you mate i would really like ‘arry to be in charge, i think we would find some backbone, passion and spirit again – but i would not want this enough for us to lose him… so in that respect i pray they can talk ‘the special one’ round.

  • I just think that Harry woul dbreak the mould of previous england managers, But, also cant imagine Pompey without him!

  • The problem with Spineless, wasn’t helped with injuries & suspensions. He was then left with having to make real decisions & got most of them wrong. He may struggle to get back into a proper job in the same way Graham Taylor did. The othetr main problem with Spineless was he get breathing.

  • barwick only made one worng decision, mclown made lots, consitently. injuries and suspensins didnt help – BUT, croatia only really had 4 or 5 players good enough to play in the premier league, england have 80ish – we dont have a lack of quality, and ashley cole, wayne rooney (?), steven gerard, frank lampard (?) john terry etc are on a completly diferent level again. Managign a country is so different from managing a club, and many cant or wont make the jump succssfully, in either direction. and whilst it would be great to go for an experianced international coach, who is there? scholari would be great – but he is unavailable untill after 2008, guus hidigink is probably unavailable – and anyway, russia couldnt even draw with israel, why would he do better as england coach? there are very few managers that can coach a high level international team – as brazil (and england) found out at the last world cup.

  • carpet the fa have been making poor decisions for years, they come across as being ‘more interested’ in what they can get financially now above anything… im not a fan of spineless’ at all – altho im pretty sure this is obvious! – and yep he made alot of mistakes but the biggest one was appointing him, another of the poor, poor decisions the fa have made…

  • A great article Dave and a lot of views that I share – I’ve said many things on the subject over the past couple of days but I think my summery is that he tried to shake off Erikkison and it didn’t work, he had no option to bring back Beckham and (whether he was right or wrong) he lost face to the public.. There was then the Carragher situation that he could not redeem (how we could have done with him on wednesday to partner Sol) The the stick with Robinson saga and when he eventually did make a move (too late in my opinion) he went with Carson, a good prospect but a prospect all the same. I just hope we appoint a better manager next time but with BArwick in charge it’s unlikely.. trouble is nobody wants the job anymore as the players are and always will be ‘bigger’ than the manager and the emergence of the premierships golden age means that there are more rewards and greater worldwide recognition laying for your club rather than your country … it’s sad but true.

  • … only somebody called ‘CHIX’ could have a typo that says it’s better ‘there are more rewards and greater worldwide recognition LAYING for your club rather than your country … Thought I’d pick it up before somebody else did !!

  • Chix – to be honest I was trying to reflect the views of all have contributed to the site on the subject of McClaren. Seemed to work OK methinks

  • The difference this time is that some quality quality managers seem to be available for the job and are showing an interest….hopefully those FA clowns won’t get it so badly wrong given the options open to them.

  • There’s still the question of who gets the job next and I hope we don’t lose ‘Arry. But McClown’s gone – good riddance – lets move on.

  • as ive previously said the backing for ‘arry is growing and growing… ‘the special one’ apparently ruled himself out didnt he – but word now is that he is ‘wanting the fa to make him an offer’… you never know what is true or not anymore – either way i pray ‘arry doesnt get the job!

  • all the pundits seem to want harry to take the job, which scares me – partly for him, as i dont think he would enjoy the change – but mostly for pompey, who really depend on him at the moment.

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