Nearly two and half years ago, Steve McClaren was patrolling his technical area at Wembley, helplessly watching on as his England side failed to qualify for a European Championship; the first time since 1984.
The 3-2 defeat to Croatia cost not only the former Middlesbrough manager his job, but also his dignity. The damning image of the ‘Wally with the Brolly’ has sadly become the lasting memory of his managerial career.
However, this season McClaren has been one of the unsung success stories of European football. After taking over at FC Twente in the summer of 2008, he has revitalised the side and Twente are just one game away from winning the Dutch title for the first time in 84 years. Twente are one point ahead of second place Ajax, and take on NAC Breda in the final game of the season on Sunday.
Nicknamed the Tukkers, Twente last won the Eredivisie in 1926, and this was when they were known as Sportclub Enschede. Before the arrival of McClaren, the closest they came to repeating that feat was in 1974, when the side finished runners-up in the competition.
McClaren enjoyed relative success in his first season at Twente, taking the side to second place in the Eredivisie, whilst also reaching the Dutch Cup final, only losing out to Heerenveen 5-4 on penalties.
Despite his disastrous tenure with England, McClaren is one game away from being the first English manager to win a major European trophy since the late Sir Bobby Robson, who won the Portuguese league with Porto in 1996.
What makes McClaren’s achievement even more remarkable is that no English staff have accompanied him since his arrival at the club. The coach told the Guardian newspaper: “My assistants are all Dutch, there are some fantastic young coaches here. I thought it was important to embrace and understand the culture of the club and Dutch football rather than import a different one.”
Given Twente’s minimal financial resources, McClaren has been forced to invest in unknown rough diamonds. His most notable transfer has been the £4.8 million spent on Costa Rican forward Bryan Ruiz. The striker, who was signed under the noses of rivals AZ Alkmaar, currently boasts 25 goals in 44 appearances and has reportedly attracted the interest of Premier League side Fulham.
McClaren’s shrewd transfer signings have been welcomed by the board, as now they have started purchasing players while refusing to sell their best men to competitors in the Eredivisie. “Those days are over,” said chairman, Joop Munsterman, who will only let his star players move abroad.
His achievements at both Twente and Middlesbrough proves his excellence; with his tactical astuteness gaining him huge admiration in Holland. Unfortunately, while with England he succumbed to the same “call him JT” and ‘WAG’ environment that Sven Goran Eriksson did, which is fundamentally everything Fabio Capello has disposed of.
McClaren signed a one-year extension in October, which means he is contracted to Twente until the end of next season. However, he has made no secret of his desire to one-day return to the Premier League. Furthermore, with Gianfranco Zola’s tenure at West Ham proving more insecure by the week, an imminent return to the Premiership would prove little surprise.
Written By Joe Questier