Sticking up for Steve McClaren

Life has not been too kind to old “Red-Face” McClaren in recent times. Having failed to qualify England for the European Championships, the former Manchester United number two and Boro number one found himself out on his ear, scurrying around looking for his next employer.

Having been ridiculed during his time in charge of the Three Lions, most notably with his characterisation as the “Wally with a Brolly,” McClaren’s name has become kryptonite in the English game. Simply put, no English clubs, whether Premier League or Championship, seemed willing or desperate enough to take a chance on McClaren, knowing that convincing their supporters that England’s destroyer would be their savior would be more than a hard sell to make.

So McClaren finally agreed to look further afield for a job, agreeing to go to Holland to see if he could start afresh with an up-and-coming team, whose tremendous work last season put them on the brink of qualification for the Champions League for the first time in their history.

But Lady Luck is a mean bitch, and with a dark cloud seemingly permanently fixed above McClaren’s flaming red hair, the gods conspired to nip any Champions League ambitions in the bud by drawing them with one of the hardest European draws possible – Arsenal. With the British media in full attendance the stage seems set for yet another humbling moment for Sad Steve, with a Euro exit almost as good as guaranteed.

It is difficult not to feel some compassion for the man. Without question McClaren is a footballing personality through-and-through, and unlike other sharks in the game, one can rest assured that footballing issues are McClaren’s priority, with financial or image concerns firmly strapped into the backseat. Had this not been the case, McClaren could easily have exited the front line of football to suck money out of the game by transforming himself as a media pundit (think Graham Taylor). But such a career path was foreign to McClaren, and his passion and commitment to the game should be applauded.

This is not to say that McClaren didn’t fail spectacularly at the helm of the national team. But there is a tendency in Britain to publicly destroy any Englishman who fails to live up to the nation’s bloated expectations – and when was the last time any English manager left the job on a high? And moreover, in the wider context of football management in England, how many English managers have stood up and been counted in the last 20 years?

Unfortunately, for the last few decades at least, managers holding an English passport have ranged from the mediocre to the terrible. The last Englishman to guide his team to top flight success was Howard Wilkinson and before that it was Howard Kendall back in 1987. Neither Wilkinson or Kendall are football names which arouse any sort of pride in the average Englishman, unlike the legendary status’s which are afforded to personalities like Ferguson, Wenger or Mourinho.

While England may be experiencing the lowest ebb for English managers in its history, at least McClaren is trying to get out there and improve himself. And what better country could there be to learn his trade than Holland, a country who pound for pound have produced some of the best managers in the modern game. Yet McClaren will never get credit anymore. He has passed the point of no return particularly as he tries to build up his reputation from scratch again.

Yesterday, McClaren tried to gee up his side, “The key word is belief. A lot of times underdogs underperform because they do not believe they can do it. I’d like a good performance, to be in the second leg and still have a chance. The best team doesn’t always win. I know that more than anyone.”

McClaren deserves our sympathy and support, remaining an eternal optimist till the bitter end. His attitude should be commended, and his footsteps followed. What is the guy suppose to do – give up and retire at 47? Unfortunately however, no such credit will ever be afforded to McClaren, and barring a miracle against Arsenal, the predicted margin of defeat will simply knock his reputation down even further.