Football, the England team, an English manager and a club in Holland – what do they have to do with this blog’s theme?
Quite a few things, actually; with the main focus being how someone widely derided and seemingly with no future, picked himself up, rolled his sleeves and produced astonishing and inspirational results within two years of being down in the dumps.
CAPTION: The image people had of Steve McClaren when England failed to qualify for Euro 2008. It would have remained for decades to come had McClaren chosen to be a bitter man; and especially after his successor Fabio Capello took England to their easiest World Cup qualification ever.
Steve McClaren, 49, is now a real life hero for me. And I think back with some shame as to how I, too, had joined in the chorus and rained harsh criticism after England’s failure to qualify for Euro 2008. And I – as with many Fleet Street writers and football followers – had also smugly concluded that his new team, FC Twente in Holland would be fighting against relegation with McClaren leading them. How little did we know who and what McClaren is…
Some of his critics were simply rabid, who seemed to have real pleasure in kicking a man when he’s down. When he was appointed as analyst and commentator for BBC Radio, some derided the decision and questioned McClaren’s credentials as an “expert analyst”. They seemed to have forgotten that he was Sir Alex Ferguson’s assistant at Manchester United for quite a number of years.
He was there when Man Utd won the treble of English Premier League title, FA Cup and European Champions League in 1999. He was also the manager of Middlesbrough for five years, and won the League Cup in 2004. Now that’s good enough for Middlesbrough weren’t much of anything.
The president of FC Twente must have seen something special about McClaren. And the late Sir Bobby Robson too had faith in him despite the disastrous tenure as England manager for 15 months. And what McClaren had achieved at FC Twente is nothing short of inspirational.
This was a team that last won the Dutch league – the Eredivisie – title in 1926. All these years, when this league is mentioned, the teams that football followers would fancy were giants Ajax, PSV Eindhoven, Feyenoord and AZ Alkmaar. But never FC Twente.
In his first season, McClaren surprised almost everyone when FC Twente finished the league in second place in 2009. They also made it to the Cup final, only to lose on penalties. This alone had instantly repaired McClaren’s reputation and credibility as a manager. Unlike the other clubs mentioned, Twente worked on a small budget and had no big stars.
But McClaren topped that this year. To the doubters who had dismissed 2009 as a possible flash in the pan, the 2010 season ended with FC Twente emerging as league champion. For most of the season, Ajax Amsterdam – with their overwhelming resources – had pressured Twente… hoping the little club, with only a one-point lead, would crumble. But Twente held on, and confirmed the title with a 2-0 away win against NAC Breda.
So, to the vicious Fleet Street writers who had hounded and picked on McClaren: What have you won lately?…Any journalistic awards to show for your `skills’?