McClaren’s Reign (Middlesbrough – NFFC Programme Notes)

I put a lot of faith in Steve McClaren when he was appointed, but after only ten games it became clear the circumstances at Nottingham Forest were not suited to his managerial style. The appointment was a total disaster and I’m beginning to think that having a tattoo of his face on my lower back was an error of judgement also.

In spite of this, he left the club with a great deal of honour. He didn’t hold out for compensation (a move which would have dealt a devastating financial blow to the club) and he left at the right time … whilst there’s still an opportunity for our season to be salvaged.

I’ve long since abandoned the idea that managers can easily be arranged into some kind of league table based on ability. There are some exceptional managers who will always succeed and there are some who simply aren’t cut out for it. However the vast majority fall into a middle category; managers who will succeed under certain circumstances and fail under others. Steve McClaren was perfect for FC Twente but wasn’t equipped for the task of getting Forest promoted.

There is little doubt about his coaching abilities but a good coach, with technical know-how, does not necessarily make a good manager. Management, especially in the cruel world of the Championship, requires a broader range of skills. Steve was never able to mould our players into a system that utilised their collective attributes, nor was he able to instil confidence amongst players or supporters.

One of the big problems was lack of experience at Championship level and his inability to adapt to the challenges the division provided. The biggest difficulty appeared to be having to work with a restrictive budget.

I understand that McClaren may have been promised things that weren’t delivered but success in the Championship cannot simply be bought. With the exception of QPR, the clubs who got promoted last season spent less money than Forest. Furthermore, many of the league’s biggest spenders ended up below us in the table. I’m not saying that a bit of wise investment wouldn’t have helped the cause but to blame our poor start on financial matters alone is pure folly.

This point is brought into sharp focus when you consider that this season’s first team is largely made up of the same players who made it to the playoffs under Billy Davies. The key players who departed over the summer have been replaced by McClaren’s own signings.

That’s not to say that McClaren is solely to blame for our poor start. Both the board and the players have publicly accepted partial responsibility for the disappointing results so far. The point I’m keen to put across is that our squad, including the new signings, are collectively better than what they have shown so far. As is always the case with football, the buck stops with the man in the dugout.

Managing in the Championship is all about getting the best out of the players available and building a team that is greater than the sum of its individuals. It is telling that, under McClaren, players who had previously excelled, as part of a unit, struggled to find their best form.

Part of the transformation in fortunes has been the result of a tactical overhaul. For a start, the fact that fans aren’t entirely sure if we have been employing a zonal marking system or a man marking system is testament to how unsettled the back four have been. Moreover, the slow, continental passing game doesn’t play to the strengths of our current crop of players and throughout the season our midfield has looked about as balanced as Kris Commons’ diet.

To be fair to McClaren, the absence of conventional wingers has forced him to compromise his favoured strategy. In addition, since last reaching the playoffs, Forest have lost part of the backbone of the team (in Paul McKenna.) Both of these factors have contributed to the lack of balance within the team and have left the back four particularly exposed. Unfortunately, dealing with this sort of adversity is an essential part of managing an established Championship team.

Perhaps the biggest problem of all has been Steve McClaren’s apparent inability to motivate the players. I get the impression that before a match Billy Davies would read speeches from ‘Henry V’, whilst chewing raw meat off the bone. The players would charge out … ready for battle! In contrast, I imagine Steve McClaren with a cappuccino in his hand, finishing off a Sudoku puzzle.

This is probably a far cry from the truth but such images are only conjured up because of what I’ve seen on the pitch. Perhaps a championship side, with a championship budget, needs more of a ‘blood and guts’ type manager who can motivate and get the best out of his players.

At the time of writing I have no idea who our new manager is but if it’s a man who understands the Championship and can rebuild the confidence of our fantastically talented squad, then it won’t be long before the promotion charge is back on.


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