Steve McClaren admitted for the first time yesterday that he has no idea what his fate will be if England fail to qualify for Euro 2008 in five days' time. When his team face Austria in a friendly tonight, McClaren will drop Gareth Barry and reinstate Frank Lampard as a final gamble in preparation for what could be the crunch game against Croatia on Wednesday.
Before arriving in a freezing, snowy Vienna last night McClaren told Barry that he would not be in the side to face Austria in order to give Lampard the chance to convince his manager he is the right man for the Croatia game. McClaren is putting his faith once more in reuniting the previously dysfunctional partnership of Steven Gerrard and Lampard in the hope that they can pull off one of the most remarkable escape acts in recent English football history.
Two hours behind schedule because the England team plane was kept waiting on the runway in Vienna, McClaren tried to be as positive as possible. He said he had spoken to Brian Barwick, the Football Association's chief executive, but "not about my job". He added: "I believe I'll survive. We're focusing on this game. I've come through adversity in the past, and I believe I will again. The support from the players that I've read about has been fantastic. But it's about what we do on the field. Qualifying: that, ultimately, is my responsibility."
He also added that the Football Association would "put out a statement" on Saturday to clarify his position once the crucial Israel against Russia game had finished; Russia need to drops points in order for England to qualify if they beat Croatia. That was later corrected by the FA, which said that it had no plans to put out a statement on McClaren's future until after the Croatia game on Wednesday.
When asked what he thought the FA planned to do if England did not qualify, McClaren admitted he had no idea whether Barwick would back him. Up until now the England manager has refused to discuss beyond Wednesday, but even he is now facing up to the worst-case scenario.
On his team selection tonight, McClaren said that Lampard was not definitely playing against Croatia but as he approaches what could be his last game as England manager it seems
McClaren is opting for a midfield reminiscent of Sven Goran Eriksson's end-of-empire line-up, with Joe Cole on the left and David Beckham on the right.
With England's qualification destiny out of their hands for now at least, tonight's game in what will be appalling weather had promised to be something of an irrelevance. However, McClaren has again juggled his formation, dropping his first-choice goalkeeper Paul Robinson in favour of Scott Carson and picking Wayne Bridge at left-back, Joleon Lescott in central defence and Peter Crouch in attack.
The England manager also refused to confirm that Robinson, whose form has been under scrutiny for some time now, would be the goalkeeper against Croatia. Carson has not started a full international before and it would appear that McClaren is blooding him tonight in order to hand him the responsibility on Wednesday, having lost faith in Robinson.
"As far as Gareth Barry is concerned, I just want to have a look at Steven Gerrard and Lampard together, again," McClaren said. "It's no slight on Gareth, who's been excellent for us in the last four games. I've wanted to look at Scott for a long time. He deserves it after the European tournament he had with the Under-21s in the summer. I've said to him before, if there's ever a game to give him 90 minutes, I'll give him one. "
Barry was brought into the England team for the home games against Israel and Russia when Lampard and Owen Hargreaves were injured and excelled as a holding midfielder. He held his place in the two games against Estonia and Russia, in Moscow in October, despite Lampard being available again. Yet it seems that Lampard's form for Chelsea since coming back from injury – he has four goals in four games – has convinced McClaren he is worth a chance.
Should results go McClaren's way tomorrow – if Russia drop points or Croatia lose to Macedonia – he presumably feels he needs Lampard's goal threat on Wednesday for a game that England must win. Yet whether the Chelsea man's partnership with Gerrard will be effective is still very much in doubt.
It seemed like the England manager was resigned to his fate if, by Wednesday night, his side are not in one of the top two qualifying places in Group E. That night Russia also have the formality of beating Andorra in Barcelona in their final game. "We're in a period of uncertainty, but the main uncertainty is about this campaign and not my job," McClaren said. "The uncertainty is because qualification is out of our hands."
McClaren said that he would watch the Israel game at home in the North-east with his sons.
The England manager also said that he would give a chance to Ashley Young and David Bentley tonight, as well as giving Ashley Cole some part as a substitute. He shrugged off criticism that his midfield four were a regression to the end of the Eriksson regime – all four played, along with Hargreaves, in the Swede's final game in charge in the World Cup finals against Portugal last summer. "We've certainly moved forward," McClaren said. "The past performances recently show that. People have come to the fore."Reuse content