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Friday, 14 May 2010

Redemption In The Lowlands

As the heavens opened and the rains came, one man stood out amid the tens of thousands. One man, with a look of incredulity etched on his face, shielded behind an umbrella, cup of tea in hand. After 90 minutes and 3-2 reversal against Croatia, a forlorn Steve McClaren had nowhere to hide, umbrella aside. And so the Wally with the Brolly got the boot, unsympathetic fans and journalists said ‘good riddance’ and the visionary Brian Barwick went off looking for roots and branches, perhaps to flagellate himself with for appointing McClaren in the first place.

McClaren’s next move, however, was cannier than he was given credit for. Instead of seeking employment where it would be expected, say at the DW or the KC, McClaren packed his brolly and headed to the DGV – the De Grolsch Veste, to be precise. By moving to Holland in the guise of FC Twente manager, McClaren has enabled himself to avoid the British media’s gaze for the past two seasons and quietly restore the pre-England reputation he had built as assistant to Sir Alex Ferguson and then manager at Middlesbrough. Earlier this month, McClaren bettered by one place his runners up spot of 2008-09 and became the first manager in Twente’s history to propel them to the lofty heights of league champions. Quite the feat when your top scorer is the Costa Rican Bryan Ruiz and your best player is a loanee from Chelsea (20-year-old Miroslav Stoch, if you were wondering). The Dutch league title will surely be a sweet tonic for McClaren, whose only coverage in the media back home during his reinvention was the relentless piss-taking that accompanied his bizarre faux-Dutch accent in his first press conference in Holland.

After becoming the first Englishman to win the Eredivisie since Bobby Robson at PSV in 1992, the ambitious McClaren is on the move again, this time to German outfit Wolfsburg, a move which makes him the first Englishman ever to manage in the Bundesliga. He has secured a lucrative contract making him millions a year and is also set to get his hands on a sizeable transfer kitty should Edin Dzeko make the seemingly inevitable move to one of European football’s more glamorous clubs. Again, McClaren’s destination marks another shrewd decision. Wolfsburg finished 8th in the Bundesliga last season and therefore the pressure will most likely be turned down a notch with the lack of European football. And lest we forget, for all the fanfare that has surrounded the achievements of fellow Englishmen Harry Redknapp and Roy Hodgson this season, McClaren is the only one to have actually won a trophy at its conclusion.

With McClaren’s rehabilitation seemingly complete, this has been a good season to be an English-born manager. Hell, even Fat Sam has had a very good season, 10th in the Premier League representing a very decent return for a Blackburn side shorn of its best player when Roque Santa Cruz headed off to the comfortable benches at Eastlands last summer. And while McClaren, Hodgson, Redknapp and Allardyce should all be applauded, the smart money could yet be lumped on another Englishman to follow McClaren’s lead and restore his reputation away from Blighty. How Phil Brown, for instance, would love a twofold opportunity to top up his tan on the continent, while at the same time proving that on-pitch team talks and headsets aside, he is actually a talented young manager. McClaren may just have kick-started a welcome trend. Adam Bushby

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