The genius of his lunacy is sublime. Not even the most advanced sports psychologists have recognised this, so I want you all to remember that I did. Its really quite clear – Steve McClaren wants the boot.
Lets go right from the start, all the way back to his Middlesbrough days. He wasn’t praised as much as he perhaps should have been, and despite some amazing matches, the credit was always given to the players. He was living in a the ‘worst’ town in Britain (I use the term loosely, as that poll was fundamentally flawed), and despite reaching the UEFA Cup final, still had little support from the fans.
Now remember, this is a man who learnt money-grabbing from the best – Sven-Göran Eriksson. He doesn’t want to resign from Middlesbrough as that would destroy the hope of any payout, so why not get another job. England was perfect for him. Steve Gibson wouldn’t stand in his way, and the FA would pay off his Middlesbrough contract, while giving him a fair whack of cash for about 50 days work a year.
But of course, he once again found himself trapped by a contract, and having to put in some effort. He was assistant to Eriksson for five years, so he already knew how thankless the job was, but you could take the FA to the cleaners. The trick, it seemed, was to get yourself sacked from the job, and then spend the next year or so unemployed, still claiming payments for dismissal.
So, what was the first thing he did to try and induce a firing? Drop the captain from the team. That should do the trick. Yet somehow, we accepted that. He was getting on after all, and wasn’t that integral a part of the team. Anyway, we came up with three wins against opposition it would be hard to lose against, and it seemed McClaren was the right man for the job.
But never mind, a dull draw against Macedonia soon sorted that. Add our biggest competitive defeat in 13 years with that comical image of Robinson watching the ball bobble into the net while being stared at by the gormless face of Borat on the advertising hoardings soon got us thinking that actually, he wasn’t all that.
Persevering with Gary Neville, giving Wes Brown the opportunity to make consecutive schoolboy errors, choosing the right-footed ‘step-over’ Joe Cole for left wing, and keeping the definitely poor partnership of Gerrard and Lampard together wasn’t helping.
Still employed, he tried his best to see the nation turn against him. He must have been sat thinking for a while for this one, and it was evil genius – dropping Beckham had gone down a storm, so why not recall him? The fans surely couldn’t want it both ways, could they? Well, yes actually. I wasn’t for his return, but the media loved it. He had the fans on his side once again, and was somewhat helped by a 1-1 draw with Brazil and a 3-0 win over Andorra. Despite the fact that we played quite averagely, it was enough to put us just 3 points behind Croatia, and enough to encourage the fans that we were on our way to Euro 2008.
What else then? Who would the public not agree with? Emile Heskey, Gareth Barry and Sol Campbell all made some sort of impact in the successive 3-0 victories over Russia, Israel and Estonia. The badly out of form Paul Robinson was kept in goal, yet still managed to keep clean sheets. It seemed that a poor choice of players had backfired on him as they gave it their all.
So onto the return tie with Russia, and it would be on a plastic pitch. Anyone notice how silent McClaren was regarding the pitch, and how ready he was to send his badly unprepared side out onto it? A 2-1 defeat, and a poor, poor performance, finally encapsulated by seeing Stewart Downing playing left back for the final 15 minutes. Though at least he was now playing on the left for England, a position he deserves to have been filling for the majority of qualifying.
Anyway, with our chances more or less gone, we have two internationals coming up – a friendly against Austria, which is undoubtedly going to cause someone an injury (they don’t call him ‘Mad-Dog’ Pogatetz for nothing you know), or at least crush our confidence with a loss, and then our final match against Croatia – THE must win match.
So lets take a look at the squad we’re taking, which ABSOLUTELY MUST beat Croatia. What puzzled me is why we only have two out-and-out centre-backs (Campbell and Lescott), when Jono Woodgate is now fully fit? And why do we need SIX fullbacks? Three for each side? Are we expecting injuries?
Its the same story in midfield. Beckham, SWP, Bentley and Young can all play right wing, so are they really all necessary? Especially if it leaves us to choose from just 4 strikers, one of which (Smith) has no idea how to play either up front or in midfield anymore, and another (Defoe) who can’t even get regular league football. Its a bizarre squad selection, and one which must surely finally get McClaren the sacking he clearly desires, and the pay-off which he hopes will emulate even Eriksson’s.
He always managed to get one over his original mentor Fergie when he was at Boro anyway.