James Lawton: Nation has already made mind up over McClaren. He's history

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The Independent Football

When Peter Crouch's header found the Austrian net, Steve McClaren was right to wear the expression of a man who had been given a fleeting reprieve rather than even the beginnings of salvation. The terrible trouble for the England coach is that the jury back home – the one so outrageously and callously empowered by the Football Association to decide the fate of the man it appointed in pantomime circumstances last year – has already reached a verdict.

The acting foreman at the Sports Café on London's Haymarket, restaurant manager Andrew Johnson, put it with a brutal simplicity. "It's ridiculous for the FA to suggest that McClaren's fate is in the hands of the fans, but let's face it, there is a certain reality in the situation. McClaren has lost control of his own destiny, and I don't see how he can avoid paying the price.

"He simply hasn't delivered, even if there has been a bit of an improvement in the games before we lost in Moscow. Nothing in tonight's match can change the fact that we are struggling to survive in a group we should have coasted through. I think that's fair comment.

"Football is football, and life is life. Tomorrow we point the prayer mat towards Tel Aviv and Israel's game with Russia. As far as I'm concerned, everything has passed from McClaren's hands."

For so much of the time last night, matters were certainly beyond the control of an Austrian team waiting to be torn apart by England trying, very laboriously at times, to make a point.

Once Austria were ranked No1 in the world. It was when they were coached by the brilliant football revolutionary Hugo Meisl. But that was 73 years ago, and Austria's last contact with greatness was probably in the heyday of Ernst "Clockwork"Ocwirk several decades later.

The question was as vivid as ever last night. It asked whether England will ever enjoy again the kind of aura achieved by Sir Alf Ramsey's World Cup winners in 1966; the jury is not optimistic.

Nathan Knox, a PE teacher, said: "You just don't see this team going anywhere. Yes, I agree it's daft for the FA to say it comes down to the reaction of fans when England play Croatia at Wembley next week, but if England don't qualify, of course McClaren has to go. This is a results-based industry.

"The players say McClaren is a good bloke, but what does that mean? He's not paid to be a good bloke. He's paid to make a winning team. I read something once which I'm always reminded of when I watch McClaren's England, just as I was when I saw Eriksson's England. It was that a champion team is a team of champions, a team that works together is close together on the field, has plenty of options, and there was no sign of that in the last World Cup and not much of it tonight after 12 months of McClaren."

The great debate will move onto a new level, of course, if Russia get the win they need in Tel Aviv tonight. It is one that McClaren can contemplate with very little optimism. Certainly, that was the groundswell in the sports bar, and, you have to believe, across the nation.

McClaren's survival depends on a series of miracles, if the FA is indeed as desperate as we imagine about the need to fill Wembley with fans who believe their team has a competitive future. McClaren, some say, should stay for the point of continuity. The players are blamed for shoddy performances. But what is the point of a coach? It is to pick his players and make them a team. That's what Ramsey did, that's what every winning coach does.

The people are restive, and if they have been press-ganged into jury service, it does nothing to take away their indignations that multimillionaire players have been delivered to such impoverished performance.

When all the argument is over, it comes down to a simple question. Has the team moved forward, is the coach in charge of his players and himself?

Maybe the most withering comment came from marketing man Ben Travers. He said: "McClaren's history. Mourinho would be nice." That perhaps sounds harsh. But it is the word of the football nation.

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