Steve McClaren's FC Twente Story Shows the Way for British Managers to Go

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Steve McClaren's FC Twente Story Shows the Way for British Managers to Go
Phil Cole/Getty Images

In England he could do nothing right, but in Holland he can do no wrong. Steve McClaren stands on the brink of leading FC Twente to their first ever Eredivisie success and he, more than anyone, can reflect how fate and fortune can change.

For some England fans, McClaren may never be forgiven. The rights and wrongs of "the wally in the brolly" during his time as England's manager have been well documented.

Yet as England have moved on under Capello, so McClaren has moved on as he departed swiftly out of the goldfish bowl to the city of Enschede where a small club were hoping for big things.

It was a brave move, but ultimately one that has paid off handsomely.

Following the end of his reign as England's boss, McClaren’s credentials as a manager were left in tatters—yet this does him a disservice.

As assistant to Sir Alex Ferguson at Manchester United, he helped build on the work of his predecessor Brian Kidd and won every Premier League title during his time there.

Then at Middlesbrough, he took the club to their highest ever league finish, and also to a UEFA Cup final—though admittedly they were soundly thrashed by a rampant Sevilla team—and the club have hardly thrived since his departure.

These are hardly the credentials of a manager who lacks ability, and at Twente McClaren has shown plenty of nous and wherewithal to re-establish his credentials and revive his shattered reputation.

As he recently admitted: “I'm not frightened of failure any more because, after the failure with England, I've seen the ultimate."

“It's made me a wiser and more experienced manager and I'd like to think a better person."

At Twente, he has led a small club to the brink of a quite magnificent achievement, utilising an eclectic mix of bargain buys—such as star man Bryan Ruiz, loan signings like Miroslav Stoch, and veterans like Blaise N’Kufo.

He has enthusiastically bought into the club’s ethos, and recently said: "We're optimistic but we haven't done it yet."

“I just hope we can for the people here. They accepted me straight away and have taken me into their lives.”

It has been a long road to redemption for McClaren, but it has ultimately brought him back in vogue—as recently links with moves to West Ham and Hamburg testify—but it is a road less-well travelled by English managers.

In the past decade, the UK has readily accepted the cream of the continent’s managerial crop but few Brits have seldom sought to test themselves away from the British leagues.

When you consider the relative difficulties with which managers such as Alan Curbishley, Glenn Hoddle, and David O’Leary have struggled to find work, then surely the best option would be to search onto other shores for hope of an opportunity to demonstrate their worth.

Yet, this is an option fewer and fewer British managers take, not that it did some of the better ones any harm.

As everyone falling over themselves to compliment Roy Hodgson will note, he spent his time learning his trade in Serie A and Allsvenskan. 

The late, great Sir Bobby Robson’s fame was only heightened by spells in Holland, Portugal, and Spain, while the oft-forgotten Vic Buckingham had a large influence on Johan Cruyff during his time with Ajax.

These are just some examples, but they show the level of managerial talent which has been exported from these fair shores previously, but it is a process which has readily declined, thus disrupting the balance against British managers.

As David Moyes, one of the more open-minded of Britain’s current crop, recently said: “I would not mind if I was seeing three or four English managers going into Serie A or La Liga because that would balance it out and be the right way to go.”

It is the revival of this long, oft-forgotten tradition, which is one of the main reasons why Steve McClaren deserves such warm applause for his achievements.

As he stands on the verge of becoming the first British manager (bar Sir Alex Ferguson) to clinch a major European league trophy since Bobby Robson in 1996, it represents a remarkable personal renaissance in Holland which, who knows, may catapult onto even greater things.

But he has also become a shining example for others to follow, a poster-boy for the benefits of football management in continental Europe, and proof that life for young British managers does not necessarily have to stop beyond Britain.

 

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