Steve McClaren on road to repairing his reputation at Derby County
Rams manager is regarded more as a messiah of the East Midlands than the 'wally with a brolly' of his England days
Sunday 05 January 2014
Redolent for a certain generation with memories of Dave Mackay and Ron Harris kicking lumps out of each other in the mud of the Baseball Ground, Derby County v Chelsea in the Cup could actually see the iPro Stadium (as Pride Park is now known) host the tie of the third round this afternoon.
The 15 matches that County have played since Steve McClaren was appointed in place of Nigel Clough at the beginning of October have yielded 51 goals, 34 of them scored by the Rams. Ten of those games have been won and three drawn, lifting them from 14th to fourth in the Championship table – they actually moved into second before losing to Wigan last Wednesday – and have been a reminder why McClaren was once regarded as one of England's brightest and best young coaches.
That, of course, was before his spell in charge of England, an 18-game sequence that ended following miserable failure to qualify for the European Championships of 2008. Now 52, the Yorkshireman is some way from retirement, but when that day comes the image of him watching helplessly from under an umbrella – the infamous "wally with a brolly" – as his charges slithered to defeat against Croatia will inevitably be part of his footballing epitaph.
So too, however, will be the subsequent success he enjoyed coaching FC Twente to the Dutch Eredivisie title, though if all goes to plan that feat could be put in the shade by his achievements at Derby.
Having inherited a young, talented but inconsistent squad from Clough, McClaren and his assistants, Paul Simpson and Eric Steele – like him, former Derby players – have found a way of making the side more solid at the back without becoming any less threatening going forward.
Moreover, the players he has brought in, all on loan, at least initially, fit a pattern. Michael Keane, currently standing in for the injured Richard Keogh at centre-half, is a 20-year-old Manchester United player who has just had his loan spell extended until the end of January. The attacking midfielder Simon Dawkins, who has just had his loan from Spurs converted into a full-time deal, is 26.
The exciting Liverpool right-back Andre Wisdom, on loan until the end of the season, is another who is just 20, as is Patrick Bamford, the Chelsea striker who has scored 16 goals in 28 appearances for MK Dons, and whom McClaren expects to join County on Monday until the end of the season.
There is some experience in the likes of the 33-year-old midfielder John Eustace, whom McClaren usually plays in front of the back four. Ahead of Eustace, however, England Under-21 international Will Hughes (only 18, and seen by some as the next Steven Gerrard) and the goal-scoring Craig Bryson (27) form a youthful central midfield partnership, with two of Dawkins, Jamie Ward (27) and Johnny Russell (23) out wide, and Chris Martin (25) as the sole striker in a 4-1-4-1 formation.
For Martin, who has scored 15 goals this season after being signed by Clough on a free transfer from Norwich following a successful loan spell, McClaren's impact has been all about "positivity". The striker says: "When he came in I thought it was a good appointment. He had great experience and obviously had great pedigree. We were sorry to see the former manager leave, but there was a little bit of excitement to see what [McClaren] had to offer.
"He's added a couple of loans and we play a slightly different shape, more suited to the personnel we've got, but above all I'd say he's been very positive. For example when we watch videos it's usually so he can show us how we scored a particular goal, or won a game, which helps the players and keeps the confidence high and the mood high.
"We don't neglect the opposition, we still do videos and try and work out weaknesses, but concentrating on what we've done well and reinforcing why has definitely been a factor in us playing as well as we have been. Granty [goalkeeper Lee Grant] said the other day that people's roles and responsibilities are very clear, and he's right. The manager is very concise with what he wants and what he doesn't want, and that gives you clarity, you know what's being asked of you and it's up to you to try and produce it."
For McLaren, being at Derby is about trying to build something that will last. Whether it changes people's perceptions of his ability, he says, is not the point.
"A few years ago what people thought about me as a coach or manager might have bothered me, but I don't think it does now. People in the football world are aware of what I do.
"We've set out do something a little different, along the lines of Swansea and Norwich and Southampton – big clubs that have gone down but come back playing the right way.
"I'm a better manager now, not just because of England but because of [being coach at] Manchester United and [managing] Middlesbrough, and then working abroad."
Taking Derby back to the Premier League, and keeping them there, would support that contention. In that context Martin acknowledges that next Friday's match against Leicester, the Championship leaders, is the more important fixture.
In the meantime, however, Chelsea in the Cup in front of a full house of over 30,000 could be an occasion that will leave another generation of Derby supporters with memories to savour.
Derby County v Chelsea is on BT Sport 1 today, kick-off 2.15pm
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