Despite success in the Netherlands, Steve McClaren is still a laughing stock to many. Nick Miller wonders if he can rehabilitate his once promising reputation at Nottingham Forest
Steve McClaren is an easy man to mock. There is plenty to choose from – the odd peninsula of hair in the middle of his head, the matey demeanour, the rather goofy grin and, of course, the Dutch accent that has given way to a curious generic European inflection.
Superficial things, one might say, but in England it is enough for some to still view him as a figure of fun, as someone not to be taken too seriously. And yet, if Nottingham Forest had appointed a different manager who last year had taken a club to the Eredivisie title for the first time, the football world would have nodded appreciatively at the coup. McClaren's name is still toxic with some, despite winning the Dutch championship. It takes something major to shake the stench of failure provided by his shambolic 15 months in charge of the England team from the national consciousness.
After the England debacle he did the sensible thing by leaving the country and trying new things, but he knew he would never be able to rehabilitate his image with success abroad. In the minds of an often insular football public, it seems as if it doesn't count unless an English manager wins at home.
Theoretically, Forest are perfect for him. We are not so big that he has excessive attention, but big enough so his achievements are taken seriously. Realistic Forest fans (admittedly, that phrase is often oxymoronic) are not naive enough to believe McClaren views the club as much more than a stepping-stone, but that should be fine by us. Forest and McClaren almost have a symbiotic relationship – he needs us to prove he is more than the clown with the umbrella and we need him to take us a couple of steps further than Billy Davies did.
However, after the smiles and handshakes, McClaren might have wondered what he has let himself in for. One could see the doubt in his eyes after his first training session, when he turned up for work with a squad that one might generously describe as threadbare. And it's not as if player recruitment will be easy. The infamous "transfer acquisitions panel" that so frustrated Davies actually is not that different to the structure many clubs have (manager recommends players, the board discusses them and make the moves), but Forest do seem to dither more than most in the transfer market.
Chairman Nigel Doughty is careful with Forest's money (understandable, as most of it is his), meaning that there is a fairly strict wage cap in place. The inevitable consequence is when potential signings are told of the contract on offer, they stall while their agent tries to get another few grand from someone else, hence the dithering. Forest also have a reputation for making derisory opening bids, which is ostensibly a negotiating tactic, but more often just looks like we are deliberately trying to annoy other clubs.
It might make fiscal sense, but one man's financial prudence is another's lack of ambition. Such a structure leads to grumbles and not always just from the stands. The phrase "job not as advertised" must have flashed in front of McClaren's eyes as he announced he would stay at home to work on new signings, instead of overseeing the pre-season training camp in Portugal. The immediate conclusion was that McClaren was already dissatisfied, and didn't trust the Forest suits to get things done without him. It was a familiar tale – if Davies hadn't publicly complained about the transfer situation so much, he would probably still be in a job.
And then there is the issue that faces every Forest manager – Brian Clough. The problem isn't so much following his achievements, for the glory days were so long ago that they are an irrelevance to our current position. It is more that Clough's influence is still felt among the fans. His successes gave a few the impression that our "natural" position is at the top, which is plainly not true.
McClaren may have largely dodged the national glare (although on his first day he happened to wear a green jumper, and the Daily Mail's headline read From Wally With The Brolly To Cloughie II!, but the intense local pressure may be just as much of a problem. Forest might turn out to be the perfect vehicle for McClaren to rehabilitate himself in England, but what looked like an ideal job now does not seem quite so inviting.
From WSC 295 September 2011