McClaren's Enduring Bad Publicity Shames Game

Published: 06th February 2015 10:01 AM  |   Last Updated: 06th February 2015 10:01 AM   |  A+A-

It is more than seven years since Steve McClaren was sacked as England manager. Seven long years since that miserable, sodden night at Wembley Stadium when McClaren stood on the touchline with that umbrella and England crashed out of qualifying for Euro 2008.

And only now is he being seriously discussed as an attraction to Premier League clubs.

But it is an indictment of English football - rather than McClaren - that his rehabilitation has taken quite so long. It is an indictment that clubs

have feared the backlash from even discussing the 'Wally with the brolly' because in no other mature football nation would McClaren have been overlooked by top-flight clubs for this length of time. For no other nation would such a label have persisted.

Newcastle United are now interested, and Queens Park Rangers would jump at the chance of naming him as Harry Redknapp's successor. But that does not look likely to happen.

McClaren was close to getting the Aston Villa job in 2011, but a meeting was cancelled by the owner Randy Lerner for fear of the fans' reaction and because his right-hand man had read the websites, blogs and forums. Really?

So, after Roberto Martinez made it clear he would not leave Wigan Athletic at that stage, Lerner instead appointed Alex McLeish, who had just been relegated with Birmingham City. Figure that one out.

The great strength and great weakness of the Premier League is that it is so popular. The problem with the Premier League is that popularity has turned it into a version of The X Factor. It sometimes feels as if Simon Cowell is calling the shots. If a media organisation ran a poll of who, for example, QPR should appoint - Michael Laudrup, say, or McClaren - then I would guess that at least 75 per cent of respondents would choose Laudrup.

Why? Because he is urbane, he is a Dane - and he is a big name. Not because they know how good a manager or coach he really is. They do not have an idea. Why should they? They have never seen him put on a coaching session or heard how he would run a club or assessed his approach or worked with him.

But clubs should know that. Too many do not know how a manager works and whether he would suit them. They draw up shortlists that contain four or five names - often all very different types of manager; different ages; different ideas; different styles and expectations. It is like they have done a Google search.

There is also the 'mystery of the other'. The lure of appointing a foreign coach because it sounds important, it sounds sophisticated and it sounds like the world has been scoured. So Fulham made a catastrophic mistake in turning to Felix Magath, and West Bromwich Albion blundered in turning to Pepe Mel. It did not look like either club did their homework, as both decisions were poorly informed.

Any club worth their salt should have a file which is constantly being revised and updated of which manager fits the profile of who they should appoint next. The file should detail their contractual situations and the likelihood of employing them. It should pay scant attention to how popular that person is - that should be a long way down the list. They should do what is right for them.

It is why every club board should include a director of football or a technical director.

'Due diligence' appears to be an ugly phrase in English football - Derby County's decision to appoint McClaren to succeed Nigel Clough after he was sacked was the exception, rather then the rule. They wanted a head coach, not a manager. They wanted someone out there on the grass working with the players, improving them, improving the football and fitting the structure under a smart chief executive in Sam Rush. And they turned to McClaren.

It helped that, although they are a big club, they are a Championship club, which is lower profile. It also helped that, although they are ambitious and will be bitterly disappointed if they do not get promoted this season, having lost out in the play-offs last year, they want to grow organically.

The England job came too soon for McClaren - although he could not exactly turn it down when it was offered to him. But to move from Sven-Goran Eriksson's assistant to being the main man? It was too big a step. He was too young. Maybe he was also not good enough either - and that is no disgrace.

Circumstances and bad luck conspired against McClaren but he also made mistakes. But he then made some big, brave and hard-working decisions; admirable choices to get his career back on track. He has put in the hours and the hard yards.

McClaren was prepared to rebuild his career. He knew he had to do that and he knew he had to go abroad - just as David Moyes has done with Real Sociedad and, more relevantly to McClaren, as did Sir Bobby Robson.

McClaren went to Holland, where he won the title with tiny Twente in 2010. He went to Wolfsburg in Germany, which was a bold decision but a bad choice of club, but who could blame him? He went back to Twente, and he admitted it was a mistake to take over at Nottingham Forest.

More recently McClaren, at the beginning of last season, was prepared to join QPR as simply a coach under Redknapp. He just wanted to work.

That coaching was superb - it is still raved about at the club, which is why they want him back - and fair play to Redknapp for employing him before Derby did.

Which brings us back to the Premier League. Clubs are too fearful of the reaction of their supporters and the media if they make an unpopular choice, even if it is the right choice. Stuart Pearce was appointed as Forest's manager - but was that really anything more than an attempt by the club to

surf popular opinion?

Too few people in boardrooms, too few people in football, know what a manager is really like because they are not prepared to do their homework, to figure out exactly what they want, what profile suits them - and what they are trying to achieve. Do they want a head coach or a manager? It is a simple distinction. Instead they stab in the dark.

The best young managers in England are Sean Dyche at Burnley, Aitor Karanka at Middlesbrough, Eddie Howe at Bournemouth and Karl Robinson at MK Dons. Anyone who did their due diligence would know that - and not just because they have had success on the field. It is not impossible for a club to ask around properly, either.

It is no coincidence that all are good coaches who work hard on the training ground and immerse themselves in the job in hand. McClaren is older at 53, but he is the same. He fits that category.

McClaren signed a new three-year contract with Derby last August and has no intention of leaving. But he is suddenly getting some good publicity and is a hot property again in a league that had previously shunned him for no other reason than the fear of bad publicity.

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