Sunday 17 May ~
It's been a momentous season in Holland, with AZ Alkmaar becoming the first team outside the traditional big three to win the league since their previous title 28 years ago. Not only that but Twente's runners-up spot makes this the first time since 1958-59 that Ajax, PSV and Feyenoord have all failed to finish in the top two. Twente may yet end up with a trophy themselves as they play Heerenveen in the cup final this afternoon. In view of his side's achievement, Twente's coach was bound to be linked with jobs in bigger leagues. Indeed there has been a flurry of press comment about how this past year in Holland has amounted to a "rehabilitation" for Steve McClaren. The most vilified England manager since Graham Taylor 15 years ago has done his penance and may now be allowed to return. If he'd just taken a year off instead the reaction would have been the same.
McClaren wasn't as bad as he was made out to be when England failed to qualify for Euro 2008, nor is there any reason to suppose that he is a substantially better coach now than he was a year ago. Clearly he has done a good job at Twente but their total of 69 points wouldn't have got them into the top three in two of the previous three seasons. Occasionally PSV or Ajax have a relatively bad season but it's not happened to both at the same time since Feyenoord's last championship ten years ago.
In the meantime McClaren's former club Middlesbrough have been in meltdown. But the atmosphere around the Riverside is not substantially different to McClaren's final season there when there were fan protests against him. He then got the England job because he seemed the best English option after the FA had bungled their approach to Luiz Felipe Scolari. The "wally with the brolly" jibes aimed at him after the Croatia debacle at Wembley amounted to collective bullying by the press who wanted a scapegoat – and couldn't face conceding that several of the best English players are not the world-class talents that they're regularly made out to be.
Managers get hyped up too, of course. We're now being asked to regard Guus Hiddink as a tactical genius for his revitalisation of Chelsea in the past few months. Yet his Russian side “lost” 4-2 on aggregate to McClaren's England and only qualified for Euro 2008 because Croatia won at Wembley. McClaren has been mocked for the Anglo-Dutch hybrid he adopted in interviews with the media in Holland over the past year but he might as well stick with it when he comes back – that accent can take you a long way. Rob Weston