McClaren desperate to ride into sunset with trophy

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The Independent Online

Few of the 3,918 souls gathered in the Riverside Stadium would have suspected so at the time, but the goals that David Murphy, Szilard Nemeth and Mark Wilson put past Northampton Town on the mournful evening of 11 September, 2001, proved to be the kick-start that has taken Steve McClaren to the brink of a European trophy - and a career as an England manager.

It might have been a modest affair in the Worthington Cup but, after four defeats in the Premiership, that 3-0 result against the Cobblers was the first win on the board for McClaren. A 95th victory tonight, in his 250th and final game in charge of Middlesbrough, would allow Sven Goran Eriksson's successor to walk off into the sunset as the manager who put "just a small town in Teesside" - as the Boro faithful are wont to proclaim - on the European trophy-winning map.

In the press room at the Philips Stadium yesterday, McClaren sat within touching distance of the Uefa Cup - a prize won by England's present manager with Gothenburg in 1982 and by a past one, Sir Bobby Robson, with Ipswich in 1981.

"I've looked at the list of clubs who've won this trophy and there are some very famous names on it," McClaren said. "I'd like to be the manager who put Middlesbrough on it. It would make me very proud."

Victory against Seville would also make McClaren the first English manager to guide an English club to a European trophy since Howard Kendall's Everton won the Cup Winners'-Cup in 1985. It would also make him the first English manager to win a European trophy since Bobby Robson's Barcelona lifted the same pot in 1997. And both of those successes were achieved on Dutch turf.

In victory or defeat, though, for McClaren it is the culmination of a mission he started with a five-year plan and will finish with an excess of achievement.

Sure, the script was thrown in his face on 4 February in the form of the season ticket book hurled in frustration by Mark Davison. And, sure, England's future manager has finished his fifth season in 14th place in the Premiership. But, having broken Boro's trophy duck with the winning of the Carling Cup in 2004, and (admittedly with more than a little help and support from his chairman, Steve Gibson, and from his senior players) steered them to a European final, he will leave the Teesside club in a far stronger position than he found it.

"Yes, I did talk about a five-year plan when I came," McClaren said, "but you couldn't have dreamed then that we'd be where we are now. They're five years that I've thoroughly enjoyed. To finish it with a win in the final would be special. It would be the icing on the cake."

If McClaren is to provide the decoration, much will depend on the assurance of Mark Schwarzer, who will take his place in goal with his fractured cheekbone protected by a "Phantom of the Opera" mask - provided it does not prove too scary for Herbert Fandel, the German referee. "I think it has to be put before the referee before it's passed," McClaren said. "But, looking at the mask, I think it will be OK."

That would leave only the small matter of Seville to deal with. A foot injury is expected to deprive the Andalucians of Frédéric Kanouté, but they will be driven by their own hunger for recognition and silverware. Their last trophy success dates back to the Spanish Cup in 1948.

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