Steve McClaren: England manager…again?

Steve McClaren is just one game away from clinching his first domestic league trophy. FC Twente only have to match Ajax’s result on the final weekend to win the Eredivisie title. If he manages to do so, McClaren would have staged an impressive rehabilitation from his darkest managerial night.

That was on a rain-soaked Wembley in November 2007. It sealed England’s, and ultimately McClaren’s fate. Croatia clinched a 3-2 win to book their place at the European Championships in Austria and Switzerland, at the expense of the Three Lions.

The backlash was inevitable and unlike England’s performance that night, ruthless. The Daily Telegraph labelled the situation as an ‘Unqualified failure’. The Daily Mail dubbed McClaren ‘A WALLY WITH A BROLLY’. The following day McClaren was sacked. He had the unenviable record of the shortest regime of any England manager.

Alan Shearer told BBC Sport how ‘something was just drastically missing from England’.

Fast-forward two years.  It was Croatia again at Wembley. This time the outcome was completely different. England thrashed their opponents 5-1 to secure their place at the 2010 World Cup finals. With Fabio Capello at the helm, the England team had done it in style by winning every qualification game to that point.

The plaudits were inevitable and like England’s qualification, well-deserved. The Telegraph explained how the ‘future looks promising indeed under Capello, who has invigorated a group of players that grew demoralised under McClaren’s lacklustre leadership’. Alluding to McClaren and ‘umbrella-gate’, The Sun told how ‘Fabio Capello has proved he is no wally with a brolly’.

Statistics clearly showed the difference between Capello’s England to McClaren’s. In all 18 games as boss McClaren lost five and drew four. Capello lost two and drew two in the same number of matches, winning 27.7% more.

BBC Sport voiced an opinion felt by many that ‘England have taken huge strides forward under Capello’. England players believed that too. Frank Lampard was forthright in his comments: ‘You would have to be a fool not to see how much the team has gone on from that point two years ago’.

So what did cause two almost identical teams to achieve such contrasting results? Why had England all of a sudden found a winning mentality under Capello?

Could the answer be respect? Talking to The Times, Capello said: ‘I respect them and they respect me’.  It is public knowledge that McClaren ‘would address Terry as JT, Steven Gerrard as Stevie G and Wayne Rooney as Wazza, offering high-fives as he went’.  Not the case with Capello.

Journalist Gabriele Marcotti, who has followed the Italian’s career closely, said ‘if Fabio Capello tells you something – because of who he is – maybe as a player you are going to embrace it and accept it more than if Steve McClaren tells you’.

If so, comparing careers could suggest why Capello appears to be respected and embraced more than his predecessor.

The Italian is a hugely successful manger. He has managed European heavyweights Real Madrid, AC Milan and Juventus. In his sixteen years as a club coach, Capello has won an impressive nine league championships and a European Cup.

Fifteen years younger, McClaren was assistant manager at Derby County before moving to Manchester United and becoming Sir Alex Ferguson’s number two. His first managerial stint was at Middlesbrough where he won the League Cup and was runner-up in the UEFA Cup. This was immediately followed by the England manager post.

Pound for pound Capello is far and away the more successful. The FA acknowledged Capello’s success as they told the BBC ‘Fabio is a winner. His record over the last two decades speaks for itself’.

Sir Trevor Brooking said he ‘has achieved huge success wherever he has worked and has the respect of everyone in football’. There is that word respect again.

McClaren was reportedly second-choice to Luis Felipe Scolari. After the Brazilian turned down the vacancy, the FA turned to McClaren. Although the then FA Chief Executive Brian Barwick stressed that his ‘first choice was always Steve’, he admitted it ‘might be difficult for people to get their heads across’. The comments don’t breed the same air of confidence.

This issue of respect and embracement seems to be built on Capello’s proven track record, and McClaren’s lack of one.

The career of Roy Hodgson supports this argument. Hodgson has an excellent track record, having worked in England, Italy, Sweden and Denmark.  He is now the front-runner to boss the Great Britain team at the 2012 London Olympics. Hodgson’s candidacy is backed by Arsene Wenger. The Arsenal manager told the Daily Mail: ‘There’s no surprise at all because I think he’s a man of intelligence, of big experience’.

Both Capello and Hodgson have built their qualities over time. Managing a national side is seen as the pinnacle for many, a job that comes naturally towards the end of one’s career. Capello told the Italian Edition of Marie Claire that the ‘England team will be the last football side I coach’.

It can be argued that McClaren was England boss too early. When appointed he told the BBC that managing England is ‘obviously the highlight of my career’. A career that had seen McClaren coach one previous club.

However, an advantage McClaren has is time. He has time to find that ‘missing link’ alluded to by Shearer. Surely it is not impossible that if he produces a quality track record of his own, McClaren can again lead out the Three Lions.

His latest success shows he is heading in the right direction. Working abroad are big strengths Capello and Hodgson possess. If McClaren can win the title with FC Twente, he will be the first Englishman to win a major European championship since Sir Bobby Robson guided Porto to victory in 1996.

McClaren has been fast-tracked into the England job once already. He now has time to build his legacy and CV. Only then with a proven track record behind him, can McClaren be awarded a second shot as England manager. This time with respect and embracement included.

Perhaps then the Daily Telegraph’s ‘Unqualified failure’ headline will read ‘Qualified success’.

Written By Harveer Juttla