He cut a forlorn figure as the rain poured down on Wembley Stadium, one November night in 2007. The press swooped down on the carcass of his career in international management like hungry vultures. Unlike previous England Managers, Steve McClaren was not so easy to vilify; he didn’t outrageously philander, hold controversial religious beliefs or have a head that was conveniently shaped like a vegetable. Instead, his cross to bear came in the form of an umbrella.
He could not overcome the inherent problems that all England managers have struggled against over the last decade and he was severely let down by his players, subsequently failing to make the impact required in the twelve matches he had been given to prove himself. These are my words, not his.
Following defeat at the hands of Croatia, McClaren offered no excuse, willingly accepting that the blame should be placed entirely on his shoulders.
Not only is the England job a chalice overflowing with poison, but it also bears no resemblance whatsoever to club management. I believe it’s the next chapter of Steve McClaren’s managerial career that Forest fans should take most interest in.
By June 2008, he had stitched up his international wounds and was on his way to the Netherlands. It’s a part of his story seldom told by a national media who have fallen out of love with tales of redemption.
In his first season at the helm of Eredivisie club FC Twente, his side secured an impressive second place finish in the league and reached the final of the Dutch Cup (only losing on penalties.) This had been Twente’s most impressive season in over 30 years.
The following season, Steve McClaren guided FC Twente to their first ever league title, cementing his place as their most successful manager of all time (a feat he also achieved during his time at Middlesbrough). His stunning comeback should have left cynical journalists impaled on their own proverbial umbrellas … but for some reason this never happened.
It’s only natural that without an in-depth knowledge of the intricacies of Dutch football, we all look to equate Twente winning the league to a hypothetical English equivalent. Unfortunately there isn’t one; the different dynamics of the Premiership and the Eredivisie make them virtually incomparable.
However, when you consider that the Dutch league plays host to such footballing giants as Ajax, Feyenoord and tonight’s opponents (PSV Eindhoven), McClaren’s achievements in Holland should be considered legendary.
This view was shared by the raucous mob of FC Twente fans, which I happened to run into during the World Cup last summer. They were campaigning for a statue of Steve McClaren (holding a trophy rather than a brolly) to be erected in the middle of Enschede, the city where FC Twente originate from. As one of the supporters waxed lyrical about him for over an hour, I resisted the temptation to incapacitate him with my vuvuzela, finally submitting and becoming a McClaren convert. Little did I know he was to become our manager just twelve months later.
Perhaps one of the main reasons that Steve McClaren’s momentous comeback has been overshadowed is that the man himself barely mentions it. In fact, he hasn’t taken any time out to wave his impressive CV in the faces of the Forest faithful; he has gone about his business with humble confidence, focussed entirely on the job at hand.
So what can Forest fans expect from Steve McClaren’s reign? I think we’ll see positive, ambitious football, engineered by a tactically astute manager, who comes highly recommended by those who have played under him. Forest will reap the benefits of his vast experience as a coach and manager, especially considering the insight he will have gained from working in two other European countries. He is also well liked within the game, something which could prove crucial when recruiting players, both on a permanent basis and during the all important emergency loan window.
I don’t believe that fans are obliged to put blind faith in anyone or anything … instead I believe that fans should put their faith in the reasonable assumption that a man who’s done it before can do it again. I think we can all afford to invest a little belief in Steve McClaren getting the most out of our talented squad. If he does, we may just have something to celebrate come the end of the season.