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Steve McClaren's Dutch success

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

Comments (3)
Comment by LeeWit 2009-05-18 22:09:30

Great shout, i'm of the opinion that Steve McClaren isn't a bad coach because of what happened with England, he was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. He deserves a lot of respect for not only gettin back into management that soon but also choosing to go abroad, something which other English managers seem reluctant to do. Good luck Steve and keep up the good work and dodgy accent!

Comment by ykikamoocow 2009-05-21 15:19:01

McClaren is not a bad coach or manager; he was just not right for the England job given the egos that he was required to manage during his short reign, it is no coincidence that they’ve had to respond to a man who has served at AC Milan and Real Madrid when they may have found it hard to take the man from Middlesbrough seriously (even if he was Ferguson’s right hand man at Man U, so was Brian Kidd).

But let’s not get carried away about his achievements at Twente; Dutch football is in a similar crisis to the rest of the countries that have been jibbed by UEFA, who continue to fawn over England, Spain and Italy as their leagues generate the greater revenue. Whereas in the days before Bosman, future Dutch legends had to prove themselves at club or international level on an international stage before dipping their gifted toes in more lucrative waters, the current generation have had little success to speak of before being snapped up by the big boys (van Persie’s UEFA Cup winners medal for Feyenoord is an exception, and this was in his first season).

This season, no Dutch clubs made it to the last 16 of the Champions League or in the last eight the UEFA Cup (where only Ajax and Twente made it past the group stages). Considering their usually excellent pedigree in Europe, this is a sign of decline in the standard and standing of a football nation that has produced a host of gifted players who will live long in the memory. This is the very league that McClaren has ventured into.

Had McClaren taken over someone like Hearts and broken the Old Firm monopoly to finish second place, one might stand up and take notice, even though he’d be compared with collective talents of Graham Rix and George Burley who achieved this three seasons ago. As it is, his Twente side finished 11 points behind another club out of the traditional big three who will have to contend with the mercurial talents of Ronald Koeman now Van Gaal’s jumped ship to Bayern. He may yet get the vacant Ajax position and do wonders there, for sure. But it’ll count for considerably less if this does not transfer to Europe where money, and not the pool of national talent, is now more of a determining factor than ever.

Comment by RayDeChaussee 2009-05-22 09:41:42

It's a good case, though McClaren didn't do himself any favours by taking himself far too seriously when he was in the job.

Great post by the way, ykikamoocow.

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