And Another Thing...| Steve McClaren Deserves Our Grudging Respect

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And Another Thing...| Steve McClaren Deserves Our Grudging Respect

So, I couldn’t help but notice that many people on Bleacher Report have started regular columns. Being something of a sheep, always following the herd, I certainly didn’t want to miss out on this new trend.

I figure that if enough of us have regular columns, it can only be a good thing for the growth of the football community on B/R. I also figured that if I didn’t have my own column, I would be a loser.

My column, "And Another Thing," will hopefully become a weekly event—where I analyse one topic from the past seven days that has really interested me.

Ideally, it will be a topic that has been given little coverage by the general press, adding even more creative journalism to the great World Football section of our beloved B/R.

It may not be funny, it may not be interesting but...well, at least it gives me something to do. Along the way, you might just see something about it you like—and it might even stir some debate.

So, without further ado, here is the first instalment.

 

It is not easy to like Steve McClaren.

Ever since Stewart Downing and Massimo Maccarone propelled the former Manchester United assistant manager towards becoming the Football Association’s “unanimous” choice to be England's head coach, the faintly-ginger one has done little to endear himself to the fans.

The Three Lions’ drab performances on the pitch, and his sickening smile off it, always made it unlikely that people would warm to him.

Unpopular to start with, there quickly came the faltering Euro 2008 qualification campaign, the “Wally in the Brolly” incident, and our subsequent failure to reach the main event in Austria & Switzerland.

Not content with that cracking piece of work, McClaren refused to resign from his post, thus forcing the FA to pay hefty compensation so he would kindly sod off.

The English public thought they had finally got rid of their bete noir, even if he had to be pushed. They should have known better.

To firmly rub salt into already painful wounds, McClaren ended up working for the BBC at Euro 2008, offering his “expert” analysis on the unbelievable teams that had actually managed the strenuous task of qualifying.

All in all, it was damn hard to write anything remotely nice about the man. Arguably, it still is.

When I heard he had taken the managers job at Dutch side FC Twente, I was just glad it meant that (presumably) I no longer lived in the same country as the loathsome man.

Now, however, I have to admit my stance has changed—I even have some grudging respect for the former Middlesbrough manager.

And no, before you ask, it has nothing to do with that hilarious Goldmember-esque interview that has appeared on YouTube (although his response to the question, “But you know English football by heart, don’t you?” must rank as one of the most bare-faced lies in the history of time itself).

Nope, my newfound respect for McClaren comes from the simple fact that he has been willing to test his coaching credentials abroad.

Don't get me wrong, this doesn’t mean that I have gone all teary-eyed in the past about the arrivals of Juande Ramos, Arsene Wenger, or Rafa Benitez.

No, I only preserve such sentiments for Englishmen who try their hand outside of this green and pleasant land. Fortunately (mainly for my reputation), few Englishmen have ever done this—whether they be players or managers.

But, unlike those that have headed to the continent before—Paul Ince, Paul Gascoigne, Bobby Robson, and John Toshack to name a few—McClaren has made the decision to move to Holland, fully aware that a poor spell would effectively end his managerial career.

Unlike the others, there is no safety net to catch him.

He could have chosen to work in England and comfortably plied his trade for many years at the lower end of the Premiership, or the upper echelons of the Championship.

Instead, he is testing himself in the Dutch league—at a club that wants to be challenging for top honours.

Twente pre-McClaren were overachievers, leaving the Englishman little room for error. If they finish sixth this season, he will be considered a failure—there will be no leniency because of his lack of Dutch experience.

A sacking from FC Twente would not look good on the CV. Coupled with his failures at England, it would take a very brave chairman to ever employ him again.

Aware of all this, you have to admire the man who has opted for the harder, but potentially more rewarding, route.

Drawing Arsenal in the Champions League was probably not what McClaren was hoping for, regardless of anything he has said. A slightly easier draw could have seen him put Champions League experience on his CV, and defeat to Arsenal will inevitably give the media an excuse to have another pop at him.

But at least the draw brought him back to the attention of the English media. All publicity is good publicity, right?

Not necessarily, but McClaren’s plight has at least made me reconsider my opinion of him. I may never forgive him for failing to get us to Euro 2008, but I still desperately want him to succeed in Holland.

Why? Well, it is very hard not to support and admire the man who takes on a challenge, even when the odds are stacked against him. I would never wish ill on a man that has so obviously stood up to be counted.

But more importantly, it is because McClaren actually has a chance to do something important for English football.

If he can succeed, if he can wrest the Eredivisie title from the greedy grasp of PSV Eindhoven, Feyenoord, and Ajax, then his success will raise the reputation of English coaching throughout Europe.

The “Wally in the Brolly” could become a trailblazer for everyone else.

By no means a fait accompli, it would be a small step towards a situation where the likes of Mark Hughes, David Moyes, and Martin O’Neill are considered just as competent as Juande Ramos, Luciano Spalletti, and Bernd Schuster.

McClaren did a lot to damage the reputation of English football. Now he has the chance to restore it.

If he can, maybe then we will once again see an Englishman manage Barcelona, like Robson did all those years ago (although, as a distant admirer of Los Cules, it better not turn out to be a certain Twente manager—my respect doesn’t stretch that far).

So, good on you, Steve McClaren, for making such a brave move—I hope it pays off handsomely.

In your career, you have headed down many wrong paths, but now you might just be heading in the right direction.

Don’t let us down.

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