I received a letter this morning from former England manager Steve McClaren. (If you believe that, you’ll believe anything!) Anyway, I thought I would share it with you because it contains some wonderful insights into some of the decisions he made over his England career.
Firstly, let me say that I think you are probably the best football writer in the world. I admire your work and think you should be paid a lot more than you are. Have a word with those Soccer News and Soccerlens people and see if they could pay you something like £500 per article. You are certainly worth it.
I wanted to contact you because you have made some unfair criticisms about me in the past. You are not the only football writer who has done so but I thought I’d start at the very top.
I want to take this opportunity to put the record straight.
I am not a buffoon, idiot, hopeless, naive, incompetent, brainless, clueless or stupid person. Why is it that all writers have to put an adjective before a manager’s name? Wenger is called the ‘Thoughtful Wenger’. We have ‘Feisty’ or ‘successful Alex Ferguson’ and ‘European genius Rafa Benitez’. I have to be lumbered with one of the above. It is not fair.
When I was assistant manager to Sir Alex at Manchester United we won trophies. It is no coincidence that they have been so unsuccessful since I left.
I took over as manager at Middlesbrough when they were nothing but a mid-table Premier League team and by the time I left five years later I had turned them into a mid-table Premier League team. Since I left the Riverside that inexperienced manager Gareth Southgate has taken over and they have slumped to become a mid-table Premier League team. None of that is coincidence.
As assistant manager to Sven Goran Eriksson I helped to mastermind five years of English football whereby the ‘best generation of talent’ the Country had seen in forty years took on the world and drew. If we hadn’t lost to Brazil, France and Portugal we could easily have won something.
When Sven left, I was the obvious first choice of the FA for the Coaches role. Apparently somebody mentioned a bloke called Scolari but Brian Barwick has told me I was always his first choice and I believe him.
Anyway, I settled into the role straight away and set about creating a nice relaxed atmosphere for all the superstars I was in charge of. I wanted them to be comfortable and enjoy themselves. Firstly because people play better football when they are relaxed, and secondly because I was in awe of all these fantastic footballers. I could hardly tell them what to do, could I?
The first squad I picked didn’t include David Beckham or David James. It was obvious to anyone with half a brain, like me, that neither of these two washed up has beens would ever put the three lions on again. I turned to John Terry, a man I both respected and was scared of and gave him the captain’s armband when he told me to.
I introduced revolutionary training methods and tactics and we went on to win our first three games. However, through no fault of mine we went on a slightly poor run of form after that. We scored only one goal in five matches but I was happy with the shape of the team and the way we created almost one or two chances in each of those games.
We then went to Albania, a tough place to visit, and put on a decent first half performance where we weathered the storm and got to half time with a 0-0. Unbelievably some of the English fans were slightly disappointed with our performance and jeered us as we walked off. It is sad that so many uneducated people watch football. They shouldn’t be allowed to spend all that time and money to travel the world to support us if they can’t recognise tactical genius.
In the second half we scored three and won comfortably. In the press conference after the game I walked out saying “Write what you want.” I knew it was best to let the football do the talking.
Imagine my shock when I saw the papers the next day. They actually criticised me. The writers must have been listening to the drunken oafs who pretend to be fans.
I then discovered a player who was plying his trade in the USA who had the same name as the superstar I left out when I had first taken over. He was a similar player, probably not quite so good and a little bit older, but it was a masterstroke to select him as we went on to win four of our next six games with him playing.
We went to Russia and I surprised everyone by playing Jolean Lescott at left back in such an important game and by sticking with keeper Paul Robinson despite the fact that he had no confidence, or indeed ability, at that time. The game went according to plan apart from the fact that we lost. Unbelievably, Lescott looked a little nervous and Paul Robinson made a rare error to cost us the game.
I had managed to take the team to the verge of qualification in a very tough group, but we were left with the almost impossible task of beating Croatia at Wembley to go through.
I resisted the temptation to play David James in goal. He was in pretty good form, but I never go back on any decisions. There was no way I could stick with that idiot Robinson so I brought in young Scott Carson. I knew he would be fine.
It was hardly my fault that he made some mistakes and we lost. I even put Stewart Downing on in both games but still we lost. How do you explain that?
I was then unceremoniously and unfairly dumped by the FA who thanked me for all my hard work. Not once in the press conference did they mention the phrase ‘Tactical genius’. I was dismayed.
I am now looking for work and so far, I have to say, the offers haven’t come flooding in. I’m probably too good for most of the clubs around the world and will have to wait until one of the big jobs becomes available. Rijkaard doesn’t look too secure at Barca and Grant is on the way out at Chelsea. I fully expect to get offered one of those.
Thank you for this chance to put the record straight.
Yours in admiration,
Any similarities to real people in the above article are entirely accidental.
Graham Fisher writes at Views of a fan. Article originally written for Soccer News.