It’s all over. After 18 matches, 1620 minutes of football and 457 days of management, Steve McClaren has been hounded out of his cushty job as England manager, and he’s taking a fancy paycheck with him. Did he need more guidance? Maybe. A leaflet or something with some basic pointers should have covered it.
All through his time as coach, he has had his doubters, but there were plenty more to back him up. The Director of Football Management, Sir Trevor Brooking for one, one of the most revered managers in Britain, Sir Alex Ferguson was another. Heck, even eternal pessimist Alan Hansen thought it was a good appointment. Mind you, he is Scottish.
Though let’s look where we started the ‘McClaren rollercoaster’, all the way back on the 16th August 2006, in a friendly match against EURO 2004 winners – Greece. Things looked good – John Terry, Frank Lampard and a Peter Crouch double before half-time was fantastic, Stewart Downing gave an inspired performance which was strangely overlooked by the media, and all without Michael Owen or Wayne Rooney. Even without David Beckham.
And then our first qualifier – a 5-0 thumping of Andorra, despite the fact that Wes Brown and Phil Neville played! Paul Robinson kept a clean sheet, Crouch and Defoe both got a double, and Stevie G justified his role on the right wing with a goal. What could go wrong? Well, leaving Phil Neville in the team for longer than necessary probably didn’t help, but we did manage a thrid successive victory – a lone Peter Crouch goal giving us a 1-0 win away to Macedonia.
But then, all of a sudden… we cocked-up. And you can pinpoint it directly to the ego’s of two Manchester United players – Gary Neville and Wayne Rooney. They returned for the home tie with Macedonia, and did abdolutely naff all. And this unusual curse of Manchester United players continued as Gary Neville, Rio Ferdinand, Michael Carrick, Kieran Richardson and Wayne Rooney all played some part in the shambolic loss to Croatia, in which Robinson conceded that goal. Mind, the situation probably wasn’t helped by the wacky and wonderful 5-3-2 we employed for that match.
A 1-1 friendly draw away to Holland was alright – they’re a good team, and then… well… A 1-0 loss to Spain wasn’t great – poor preparation for the upcoming qualifier, but it was a weak team, including Ben Foster, both the Neville’s, and a 4-5-1 formation with no left winger, despite Downing being fit and on form.
The confidence (or lack of) showed in the match against Israel. Phil Neville retained his place, Carra was once again played out of position, and Macca decided we didn’t need a left winger, and we suffered – 0-0. It was all change for the Andorra match, a game we couldn’t lose with the fans well and truly on McClaren’s back, and all of a sudden, he had a plan. No Neville’s, two strikers, a left winger and three goals. Can’t argue with that.
It didn’t last long. Beckham was brought back. That Gerrard-Lamps problem was back. Alan Smith was back, and Joe Cole was back despite doing naff all. A 1-1 draw with Brazil to christen the new Wembley ensued, which at least steadied his job.
Sandwiching in a demoralising 2-1 defeat to the old enemy, between two inexplicable 3-0 wins against Estonia and Israel,we were back on form. Plus the emergence of Gareth Barry as a talented player, and then bringing Heskey back in the squad we beat Russia 3-0, and qualification looked sorted. Tactical genius from McClaren? Well, no probably not. He just struck lucky with everyone else being injured.
Cue the plastic pitch, everything seemingly going wrong, and McClaren losing it. Again. Sol and Lescott were poor, Owen and Rooney didn’t work, Joe Cole played AGAIN (although the late cameo from Downing offered more than Cole had in 80 minutes), and there was even time for the kiss of death – Gerrard and Lampard alongside each other.
How to save it? Our hopes lay on Israel as we struggled to a pointless 1-0 win in Austria, losing our best striker.
But everything would be fine. McClaren had a brainwave! 4-5-1 was the way forward! It didn’t matter than we hadn’t won with that formation since the 70’s, this must-win qualifier was the game to try it. Along with the totally untested Carson, despite Robinson being one of the best keepers in the tournament so far. And lets be honest, they were all dire, bar perhaps Peter Crouch and David Beckham, who produced our only moment of attacking magic. Oddly enough, this was the first game in which no Manchester United players featured.
Cue his sacking. He had 18 matches, and won only 9 of them. You can blame the players till the cows come home, but once you’ve learnt that something doesn’t work, you shouldn’t try it again.
I mentioned a leaflet that should come with the England job. I think whoever takes it should remember these 10 points, and they’ll head their way to success.
- Don’t replace one of the best keepers in the tournament with a total unknown in a must win, high-stakes game.
- Don’t play defenders with no experience (Lescott) alongside someone who can’t run (Sol). Especially when people like Woodgate or Richards could have played there instead.
- Never, ever, EVER, play Wes Brown or Wayne Bridge. Both wish to grant the opposition gilt edged chances to score.
- Left-wingers are important. It helps if they have experience of playing on the left, can use their left foot, and can cross the ball.
- Right-wingers should also be able to cross the ball.
- Gerrard+Lampard doesn’t add up, no matter how many times you try it.
- Neither does a 4-5-1 system. Or a 5-3-2 system.
- Nor does Owen and Rooney upfront. We need a target man.
- It’s fine playing Crouch as a target man, but you need people who can kick the ball to him, or latch onto his knockdowns. All 5 midfielders failed to do that against Croatia.
- If you’re ginger, balding, wear glasses, and have a poor record in management, don’t take the England job. That’s just fuelling the fire.