Football: McClaren suited as assistant sorcerer

THERE ARE ways of getting noticed and Steve McClaren came to Alex Ferguson's attention by irritating him. The Manchester United manager was trying to watch his players, but the Derby County coach kept jumping in his way. "I couldn't see the bloody game," he grumbled afterwards.

Out of sight did not mean out of question, however, because that same irritant became Ferguson's assistant yesterday, signing a three and a half year contract to replace Brian Kidd. Now the 37-year-old can obscure the sorcerer's view every match if he can get away with it.

The move was as seamless as it was quick. Ferguson approached Derby after the clubs met last Wednesday and by Friday morning the deal was done but for the signatures on the contract. Mr Unknown of a week ago had become much sought after in a matter of hours.

"I was told at one o'clock in the morning after the game at Old Trafford," the York-born McClaren said, "and if it hadn't been so late I'd have got in the car there and then and demanded to see Alex. I couldn't wait to get here."

Ferguson chose McClaren, whose playing career took him to Hull, Derby, Lincoln, Bristol City and Oxford, after studying the leading coaches in this country. "When Brian Kidd left I did the right thing: nothing," he said, "because I wanted to make sure I got someone who is first class and I can trust. All the research and information pointed to Steve.

"He's a very good coach and a good modern thinker. He wants to try things, he's intelligent and the most important thing was that the players at Derby respected and liked him."

McClaren, quietly spoken and with only a hint of a Yorkshire accent, did not join United officially until yesterday but he did meet the players and staff on Friday night and was at the City Ground on Saturday for the 8-1 demolition of Nottingham Forest.

"It can only go downhill after that," Martin Edwards, the chief executive who had emphasised the "who he?" air by introducing Old Trafford's latest signing as "Steve McClarridge", said. McClaren added: "I did say after the game, `at least I'm in a job for another week.' "

Had he been surprised at the quality amid the massacre? "What can one say? There were three goals in the first seven minutes and I said to the staff `is every game like this?' It was nice to be able to look at the players close up, because it's different when you're involved with them. Before I was concentrating on what our lads were doing.

"They're the best players in the country, possibly the world, and what impressed me was the belief, the mental attitude to go out and perform as they did. It shows tremendous character. At Derby we were always quoting Alex and Manchester United. `See how Cole and Yorke do this, how Keane does that', so it was nice to be working with the role models."

Ferguson's template for working practice will be the same as he used with Kidd, allowing McClaren a free hand on the training ground while encouraging him to travel abroad to expand his knowledge. The assistant, meanwhile, will innovate. At Derby he introduced computers to analyse videos and self-massaging beds to prevent muscle injury and shorten recovery periods.

"The biggest thing he brought to Derby was professionalism," Jim Smith, his boss for four years, said. "He looks at every available source to improve things, he listens to what people have to offer and acts on those he feels are worthwhile. He's improved our training and organised new fitness tests."

McClaren arrives with United due to face Internazionale in the quarter- finals of the European Cup and a possible domestic Double in prospect.

"It's one of the reasons why I'm sat here now," he said.

Given Old Trafford's track record, the chances are he has made the right choice.

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