Steve McClaren on verge of history with FC Twente
By Caroline Cheese
If there are showers this Bank Holiday weekend, one man will not be reaching for his umbrella.
On Sunday, Steve McClaren takes his FC Twente side to NAC Breda where victory will guarantee the club their first Dutch league title in their 45-year history.
It would make McClaren the first English manager to win a major European league since Porto won the 1996 Portuguese title under Sir Bobby Robson.
It is some turnaround for a man who, less than three years ago, was ridiculed as the ‘wally with the brolly’ in the wake of a shambolic 3-2 defeat by Croatia , which meant England failed to qualify for Euro 2008 and McClaren was sacked after only 19 months in charge of the national team.
McClaren is very well liked here… He is seen as a gentleman
FC Twente season-ticket holder
Redemption, rebirth, rehabilitation… McClaren insists his success with Twente is none of those. Speaking to BBC Sport earlier this season, he put his England nightmare down to a painful but inevitable low in the career of a football manager.
“I don’t think a day goes by some aspect of that experience doesn’t come flashing into my mind. I felt I let down a nation,” McClaren, who celebrates his 49th birthday on Monday, said.
“But being a manager is what I do. Generally I’ve been quite successful in what I do, but you can’t win every time. Sometimes failures come, and this was a big failure.
“I had to learn from it, be strong and move on. Someone said ‘you’re not a manager until you get sacked’ and that’s what I believe.”
McClaren, who also sought advice from Robson, was eventually persuaded to take the Twente job by the club’s ambitious chairman Joop Munsterman, who many have compared to McClaren’s former boss at Middlesbrough, Steve Gibson.
McClaren went on his own, leaving his family at his Yorkshire home, and has a Dutch backroom staff.
One of them, international scout and former coach Jan van Staa, told BBC Sport the appointment was a surprise.
“It surprised me that a big coach from a big country made the choice to come to Twente,” he said.
Interview – Steve McClaren
“But that’s exactly what we needed to take the club to the next level.
“When you see him working with the group, you can see he is experienced at dealing with big players. That’s his great quality, that along with being a very nice person to work with.”
Nonetheless, many Twente fans were initially suspicious, but in his first season, McClaren led the Tukkers to the domestic cup final and second place in the Eredivisie, earning plaudits for playing the ‘Dutch way’ in a 4-3-3 formation.
Just as when he arrived the previous summer, McClaren then had to deal with the departure of some of his best players, but he responded by spending £4.3m on Costa Rica striker Bryan Ruiz, who has contributed 23 goals in his first season.
McClaren’s impact could hardly be described as a revolution – the club were on the rise before he took over, having finished fourth in the Eredivisie in 2007/8.
But De Telegraaf’s Twente correspondent Jeroen Kapteijns believes the former Manchester United coach has been “psychologically very important for the players”, a view echoed by Tukkers season ticket holder Ellen.
“The main thing he has changed is the mental aspect – he’s turned the squad into a group of real winners,” she told BBC Sport.
“Our previous manager [Fred Rutten] was known for very attacking and more entertaining football. Now, we play safer, but you won’t hear Twente fans complaining.
“McClaren is very well liked here, not just because of his performances on the pitch, but because of his behaviour off it. He seems a very warm and friendly man. He is seen as a gentleman.”
The Dutch media have also been charmed.
“Compared with some Dutch coaches, he’s perhaps more cautious with the media, but I think that’s just because of the culture he comes from,” said Kapteijns.
“He’s got a great relationship with us. We have a very positive view of him.”
Winning the club’s first Eredivisie title would give McClaren hero status in Enschede, a city in eastern Netherlands perhaps best known as the home of Grolsch beer.
There will be big screens set up in the town, with 35,000 fans expected to turn out to watch, and the rest of the country has been captivated by ‘little’ Twente’s battle with the giants of Ajax.
McCLAREN’S COACHING CAREER
1992-95 Oxford Utd, youth and reserve team coach
1995-99 Derby County, assistant manager to Jim Smith
1999-2001 Man Utd, assistant coach to Sir Alex Ferguson
2000-02 and 2004-06 Part of England coaching team
2001-06 Middlesbrough manager
2006-07 England manager
2008- date FC Twente manager
“It would be a really big deal if they win,” said Kapteijns. “Twente is growing, but they still have probably half Ajax’s budget. I think it would be the equivalent to Fulham winning the Europa League.”
Like Chelsea in the Premier League, Twente have the comfort of controlling their own destiny – they lead by a point from Ajax, who visit NEC.
Unlike the Blues, Twente’s goal difference will not help them should they finish level on points with Ajax.
While the Tukkers’ goal difference of +38 is perfectly respectable, Ajax’s +83 is simply staggering.
Martin Jol’s side, who have scored 102 goals at an average of three per game, have won 13 games in a row, but Twente find themselves on top thanks to a steady season in which they, like Ajax, have lost only twice.
Win or lose, McClaren is likely to face another rebuilding job this summer, with Ruiz and defenders Ronnie Stam and Douglas among those tipped for moves to bigger clubs.
McClaren, too, could move on. He has been linked with a return to the Premier League with West Ham, as well as the vacant position at Bundesliga side Hamburg.
However, he is contracted to Twente until 2011, and if they win on Sunday, the opportunity to lead the Tukkers in their first Champions League group stage campaign may prove too tempting an opportunity to turn his back on.