Steve McClaren’s biggest success in his short managerial career has also been his biggest failure. He was recognised as one of the best young coaches in English football when he was appointed England manager. However, McClaren’s sacking after England failed to quality for a major tournament for the first time since 1994 showed this job may have been too big for him. Steve McClaren’s coaching qualities, passion and determination for football will see him bounce back into management in the near future.
Steven Barry McClaren was born in Fulford, York on May 3 1961. He joined Hull City as an apprentice in 1979 where he stayed for seven years. McClaren, a strong midfielder, spent his professional career playing in the lower leagues of English football, with spells at Derby County, Lincoln City, Bristol City and Oxford United. The highlight of his playing career was winning the Second Division title with Derby. McClaren scored 18 goals in 305 appearances before a back injury ended his playing career in 1992.
Coaching Career Begins
Soon after his forced retirement, McClaren was given the reserve team coach job at Oxford United. In 1995 McClaren took up a coaching position at Derby County. He spent nearly four years at Derby, becoming assistant manager at the club, as well as experiencing promotion to the Premiership in the 1995/6 season. Although newly promoted teams usually struggle in their first seasons in the top league, Derby impressively consolidated, finishing 12th and 9th in their first two seasons.
When Brian Kidd left his assistant manager post at Manchester United to become the Blackburn manager, McClaren landed the position of Alex Ferguson’s right-hand man when he joined Manchester United in December 1998 as United’s new assistant boss.
Treble for the new assistant
Joining a close knit squad and coaching unknown players halfway through the season didn’t worry Steve. Manchester United didn’t lose any games in his first half season as assistant, with the club going on to win a historic treble, winning the FA Cup, the Champions League and the Premiership in 1999. McClaren’s three-and-a-half-year contract was expected to take him to the end of the 2001-02 season when Sir Alex Ferguson was expected to retire. His impact at the club suggests that if Sir Alex had not decided to carry on as manager, he may have been named the new manager of United.
McClaren was involved in the international set-up from November 2000 when Kevin Keegan resigned as manager. He was senior national team coach under caretaker manager, Peter Taylor, before Sven Goran Eriksson gave him the job on a permanent basis.
First job as the boss
But Steve’s ambition was to become a manager, and if he couldn’t do it at United, he would look elsewhere. After completing his tutelage under Sir Alex Ferguson, McClaren started his first management job at Middlesbrough in the summer of 2001, succeeding England legend Bryan Robson.
McClaren’s first season at the helm saw Middlesbrough reach the semi-final of the FA Cup, where they lost to Arsenal. Under McClaren, Middlesbrough achieved their first ever major honour, beating Bolton Wanderers at the Millennium stadium to win the League Cup in 2004 and giving them their first ever taste of European football. In the 2004-05 season Middlesbrough achieved their highest ever Premiership finish, reaching 7th place and giving the club another European adventure. In the 2005-2006 season, Middlesbrough incredibly reached the UEFA Cup final, a huge achievement for the club, but were beaten 4-0 by Sevilla.
Under McClaren, Middlesbrough broke many of their club records and also tasted their first major success, but it cannot be denied that they underachieved domestically under his reign. An elusive top six finish was never achieved after spending large amounts in the transfer market on players such as Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink. McClaren was often criticised for prioritising cup matches which hindered their consistency and progress in the Premiership.
The proudest moment of his career
When Sven Goran Eriksson announced he would be stepping down as England manager after the 2006 World Cup, McClaren’s name was added to a shortlist of potential candidates for the job. This included Martin O’Neill, Sam Allardyce, Alan Curbishley and Luiz Felipe Scolari. After Scolari decided to rule himself out because of the intense media pressure, McClaren became the leading candidate. His close contact with the England squad gave him the upper hand when a new England manager was to be chosen. In May 2006 it was announced that the current assistant manager would take over the top job, and on August 1 2006 McClaren was named as the new England boss with Terry Venables as his assistant. McClaren, with his strong relationship with the players and his coaching brilliance, would be the man to take the golden generation to the European Championships, whilst ensuring stability in the England camp.
Pace and Penetration- goodbye Beckham
In his first squad, McClaren made some drastic changes by dropping David James, Sol Campbell and, most notably, ex England captain David Beckham. He explained that he wanted to go in a different direction with the England side, opting for younger, faster players to play with pace and penetration such as Aaron Lennon, and this didn’t involve Beckham. It was a statement by McClaren: he tried to show he was in control, turning his back on the most famous footballer in the world to create a side that would play by his rules.
After an encouraging start to his reign, results started to dip. Too many injuries and bad performances saw England’s inconsistent form turn a seemingly easy group into a struggle for qualification. Defeat away to Croatia, draws with Israel and Macedonia led to frustrated England fans booing the team off after their 3-0 win over Andorra, a game rescued from embarrassment almost single-handed by Steven Gerrard. The new style of play wasn’t working: top-class players who perform every week for their clubs weren’t hitting the same standard for their country, much to McClaren’s frustration.
It was as though everything Steve McClaren had based his England reign on was compromised, when he recalled David Beckham in May 2007. His change of direction by playing younger and quicker alternatives had failed. The final game of the qualifying campaign summed up McClaren’s reign as England manager. Needing only a draw to qualify, England had their first choice centre halves and strikers injured, which had happened throughout the campaign. McClaren rarely had the chance to play his first-choice eleven.
He is a bold coach who is not scared to make big decisions and leave certain players on the bench, but on the big night he meddled too much. Giving Scott Carson his competitive debut was a disaster. Playing Barry only proved he is not capable of filling in for the experienced midfield dynamo, Hargreaves. The game needed experience and players who have performed at this level under pressure, but instead he opted for Wright-Philips over Beckham. McClaren’s treatment of Beckham through the whole campaign was poor: publicly rejecting him at the start of the campaign, re-calling him when things went wrong and then dropping him for the all important Croatia game.
The end of McClaren
On November 22, McClaren, along with his assistant Venables, was removed from his post as England manager after England failed to qualify for the European Championships. McClaren’s tenure was the shortest on record as England manager, lasting 18 games.
McClaren was by no means solely to blame for our current international side’s failures. The campaign was plagued with injuries and with too many big players not turning up for their country. But McClaren failed to make his statement, failed to make the team play together and therefore lost his job. McClaren will go away from the experience as a stronger and better manager who has a good club record. Ultimately, the England job came too early in his management career.
He is a determined and passionate man who never gave in on this job. McClaren never made excuses and can be commended for the way he dealt with his sacking. There is no doubt that he is one of the best coaches in the game, but making that step up to management is proving a hard one for McClaren.
The so called golden generation of English football is slipping away from us now, and Steve McClaren failed to inspire it. The England job is a thankless task, but McClaren is a good enough coach and a passionate football fan who will surely be successful in his future management or coaching endeavours
2006-2007 England (Head Coach)
2001-2006 Middlesbrough (manager)
1999-2001 Manchester United (assistant manager)
1995-99 Derby County (first-team coach)
1992-95 Oxford United (youth, reserve team coach)