McClaren’s new charges
By Chris Whyatt
After a crushing spell with England, McClaren is rebuilding his career
Sheltering forlornly under a umbrella as Euro 2008 qualification slipped away in the rain, the abiding image of Steve McClaren’s downfall was enduringly vivid.
But the ex-England boss will seek to erase that from football’s collective mind on Wednesday as he embarks on a fresh start in management.
McClaren returns to the spotlight as the boss of lesser-known Dutch side FC Twente, who take on Arsenal over two legs for a place in the Champions League group stages.
Lithuania’s FBK Kaunas may have caused a major shock last week when knocking Rangers out of Champions League qualifying before their domestic season had even began, but McClaren admits his new charges are “very big underdogs” against Arsene Wenger’s classy side.
Can FC Twente secure an unlikely victory? BBC Sport investigates.
Towering Brazilian defender Douglas Franco Teixeira, just 20, was brought to the club for little more than £150,000 – though his worth is now believed to be nearer £5m. Dutch giants Ajax were believed to have made an offer a while ago, and other clubs are interested.
Physically strong and brave enough for a direct encounter with the opposing team’s big striker, he nullified the danger of Klaas-Jan Huntelaar completely in Twente’s crucial home play-off match against Ajax (though he did cause an own goal). Arsenal striker Emmanuel Adebayor will be his target.
Looking back to last season is useless. That was the first thing I made clear to the squad. You cannot live on the success you had before
Ajax are also rumoured to be chasing another Twente defender, Dutchman Rob Wielaert, as a replacement for John Heitinga (now with Atletico Madrid).
Wielaert was supposed to be one of manager Foppe de Haan’s dispensation players for the Netherlands at the Beijing Olympics but, because of the matches against Arsenal and the impact he could have, he was not allowed to go.
Sander Boschker is an experienced goalkeeper who, at times, kept them in the game in that crucial play-off against Ajax, for whom he used to play. A big-match player who, like fine wine, is improving with age.
Versatile Australian international Luke Wilkshire, a right-sided full back or defensive midfielder, is probably the Twente player best known to Arsenal fans.
The former Bristol City and Middlesbrough man, who played under McClaren at the Teesside club, is a silent motor of the team. Not particularly well noticed but important in both defence and attack, with excellent stamina. Will be looking to keep Robin Van Persie quiet.
Star of the side is Swiss striker N’Kufo, top scorer for the last five seasons with a 83 goals in 155 games. A real goal scorer, he is physically strong and keeps the defenders busy. He signed a new contract with the club in April which will keep him there until 2010.
Just one problem: he is suspended for both matches with Arsenal. Given that, creative midfielder Wout Brama will most probably be the most keenly watched threat by Arsenal’s rearguard.
Wilkshire is an important cog in FC Twente’s tight defence
“I am really impressed by the organisation of FC Twente,” he said, ahead of Wednesday’s game. “I see people who are working for the club with passion and want to go further.
“On the pitch I found a group with a very good fitness level, so we could immediately work on the performance.
“The target was immediately pointed on the future. Looking back to last season is useless. That was the first thing I made clear to the squad. You cannot live on the success you had before.
“We want to go on down the line that brought success before and that is what we are working on now.”
The team that trots out against Arsenal can call on recent form in massively pressurised games – not least the match which ensured they qualified for this season’s Champions League qualifiers after finishing a fourth in the Eredivisie.
Despite Twente cruising to an 8-1 aggregate victory over NAC Breda to reach the play-off final for a Champions League place, Ajax – who ended the regular season as runners-up to champions PSV Eindhoven – were made instant favourites.
But Twente beat the Amsterdam giants 2-1 in a tense first-leg at home, in a game which had to be delayed for 10 minutes due to crowd congestion at the Unive Stadion (Twente’s temporary home).
Fred Rutten proved inspirational in leading Twente to new heights
And they did so by coming from behind after Luis Suarez put Ajax ahead just before half-time, a second-half brace from Swiss striker Blaise Kufo – both goals unstoppable shots into the top corner – doing the business when it mattered.
FC Twente then travelled to the Netherlands’ biggest city and kept their cool to draw 0-0 in the second leg in order to secure their first entry into Europe’s biggest club competition.
The platform for this success was built by canny coach (and former Twente player) Fred Rutten, now departed for the top job at Schalke 04 in Germany having led the club to two fourth-placed finishes in his second coaching spell with the club over the past two seasons.
“How FC Twente will get on without Rutten is an unknown,” former Netherlands international midfielder Ronald de Boer told BBC Sport.
Dutch football dazzled in the 1970s and it was during this period that FC Twente reached their zenith.
In 1975, Twente embarked upon a glorious Uefa Cup run, beating Bobby Robson’s rapidly-developing Ipswich Town in an early round before going on to sensationally beat Italian giants Juventus home and away in the semi-finals.
Fate decreed that FC Twente’s opponent’s in the final were Borussia Monchengladbach, who defeated the Dutch side in the 1973 semi-finals. But revenge proved beyond them, as Berti Vogts and great Dane Allan Simonsen inspired the Germans to a stylish 5-1 victory.
Wednesday’s game – Twente’s first in Europe’s premier competition despite regular Uefa Cup appearances in the late ’80s and early ’90s – is the club’s most important in Europe since then.
A. The club’s entrepreneurial president Joop Munsterman started out as a cleaner at a local newspaper called Tubantia. Now he is the chairman of the board and chief executive officer at Koninklijke (Royal) Wegener NV, the largest publisher of regional daily newspapers in the Netherlands. He is considered by many to be the architect behind the uprising of FC Twente, and was the man responsible for bringing McClaren to the club. “Anything is possible” is his mantra.
B. For a fleeting second, the Gunners could be forgiven for thinking they are back at Anfield against last season’s Champions League foes Liverpool. Before each home game FC Twente walk out to the strains of Gerry And The Pacemakers’ “You’ll Never Walk Alone”.
C. Wednesday’s match will take place at the Gelredome in nearby Arnhem. They moved from their old ground the Diekman Stadion (known locally as the Epi Drost Stadion) to the brand new Arke Stadion in 1998, since when it has been called the Grolsch Veste. But expansion work has not been completely finished for the new season. Dutch fans are being compensated with cheaper tickets.
D. Famous former players include Dutch legends Frans Thijssen (ex-Ipswich Town), Arnold Muhren (ex-Manchester United), Paul Bosvelt (ex-Manchester City), and Arthur Numan (ex-Rangers). Everton winger Andy van der Mede and Celtic striker Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink also played for the club, as did ex-Spurs boss Martin Jol.
Alton Towers (or any other theme park for that matter) would be proud if they successfully engineered a ride which resembles FC Twente’s relatively short history. It has been a rollercoaster.
The club was formed in 1965 as a merger of two professional clubs: Sportclub Enschede and the Enschedese Boys. They quickly became known as the Tukkers – a slang term for people from Twente.
Nine years later and the club came the closest it has ever been to winning the Dutch championship (though SC Enschede did in 1926), a result of steadily building up a strong squad in its early existence.
Twente battled toe-to-toe for the 1973-74 Eredivisie with Feyenoord, but a 3-2 loss in a dramatic head-to-head confrontation in the final game of the season saw the Tukkers painfully miss out.
FC TWENTE – KEY FACTS
Nickname: The Tukkers
Stadium: Grolsch Veste Enschede
Honours: 2001 KNVB Cup
Champions League matches: 0
Relegation to the Dutch second tier came in 1982, though the club returned to the top flight a year later. But, despite its early successes among the more established clubs of Dutch football, the club – much like Arsenal in the early ’90s – earned a new reputation as ‘boring’ after a remarkable run of 0-0 and 1-1 draws.
The 1990s heralded a minor turnaround as German coach Hans Meyer led Twente to the third slot in the Eredivisie in 1997 and inspired some spirited displays in the Uefa Cup that followed. The club won their biggest piece of silverware to date in 2001, beating PSV Eindoven to clinch the KNVB Cup.
Yet the next season saw Twente’s hardcore Ultras Vak-P fans riot at the club’s new Arke Stadion after the club’s cup exit against Ajax’s second team teenagers compounded poor league results. Almost catastrophically, the club’s mother corporation (FC Twente ’65) was then declared bankrupt in the 2002-03 season.
But it survived and in 2004 reached another KNVB Cup final, kick-starting the phoenix-like rise from the flames which has culminated in their Champions League qualifying clash with Arsenal.