McClaren fires back: I've had failure and I don't fear it

Once derided England manager is relaxed but determined to rebuild career at Forest

Click to follow
The Independent Football

Steve McClaren made his entry via the back of the room at the City Ground yesterday, which meant that the photographers waiting for the picture of Nottingham Forest's new manager framed by a black-and-white photograph of his most famous predecessor did not get their shot.

That picture of Brian Clough pouring champagne into the European Cup alongside his assistant Peter Taylor was partially obscured by the stage on which McClaren sat yesterday, but the eye was drawn to it nonetheless. Reminders of "Cloughie", as McClaren referred to him more than once, is everywhere at the City Ground, and 10 managers have come and gone since the day in 1993 that he finally left the club.

All 10 Forest managers since Clough have had to take the job in the long shadow cast by his legacy but it was even more pertinent yesterday for the 11th incumbent. Two decades ago Forest still had Clough, the greatest manager England never had. Now they have McClaren, who has had the England job already but whose career was very nearly destroyed by the experience.

Like Clough, McClaren takes over Forest with the club in the second tier of English football. And like Clough, who came to Forest fresh from his failure with Leeds United, so McClaren comes in the knowledge that, in his home country at least, he too has a reputation that must be rebuilt. Beyond those two parallels, it is fair to say that the similarities are not obvious.

Yesterday, McClaren recalled playing for Derby against Clough's Forest, in a League Cup tie at the old Baseball Ground in 1985."Everyone knows Cloughie," said McClaren. "I was a player in that era when he had an aura." The Clough aura is not something McClaren plans to run away from. He talked about "the smell of history" at the City Ground and how he planned to embrace the club's rich heritage.

It was all around him, from the picture of Martin O'Neill with the League Cup to the one of Kenny Burns with the League Championship trophy. "I walked into the boardroom and there are two replica European Cups still there," said McClaren. "You look at all the trophies and the pictures. You find yourself thinking 'Look at that player, look at that one'. It is fantastic. We need to embrace what is here. You can't forget it, it is the inspiration. They used to say Notts County were on an equal level [with Forest] before Cloughie. It shows what can be achieved.

"The chairman [Nigel Doughty] has bought this club and is the sole owner because he has been a supporter since five or six years old. He couldn't believe it going to Europe and winning two European Cups. How can you not embrace that history? You can't forget it. We don't want to dismiss that. What we have to bring is a modern era and culture and try to create a new team and take small steps to trying to achieve something."

There have been successors who have found the weight of history oppressive. Would he ever suggest the reminders of the Clough era were best unscrewed and discreetly stacked against a wall in a storeroom somewhere? "You can't do that, it is part of the history and traditions. I won't be doing that. But what I also want to see is pictures of the [current] players in action and achieving things." Forest fans will be forgiven for thinking they have heard all this honouring-the-past before but they have not had a manager since Clough who can lay claim to having won a European league title.

McClaren has his Dutch Eredivisie title with FC Twente from last year in the bag. Nothing, of course, to compare to Clough's haul but often overlooked when talk strays back to those bad old days at the end of 2007 when England's Euro 2008 qualifying campaign crumbled under McClaren.

Since then he is noticeably more confident and relaxed than he was back in May 2006 when, appointed as England manager in the wake of Luiz Felipe Scolari fiasco, he had to handle questions about being the Football Association's second choice. Now McClaren takes the view that he might as well be honest rather than evasive and it tends to take the sting out of the most difficult questions.

He admitted yesterday that being told en route to a meeting with Aston Villa's owner Randy Lerner this month that the club no longer wished to interview him, he was "very down and disappointed". "But I have had many disappointments in football," he said, "and I quickly move on". Having been turned down by Villa on what appears to have been the club's reaction to a fan backlash (ironic given the circumstances surrounding Alex McLeish), McClaren said the reaction from people in the game "was very interesting". "I have had fantastic support from managers and players," he said. "People in football know what kind of football person you are. That for me is the most important. To convince other people sometimes can be difficult. But that is not my problem."

McClaren will not have anything like the biggest budget in the Championship and his Forest squad, which has reached the play-off semi-finals for the last two seasons, will need strengthening. The club clearly hope McClaren's contacts will give them greater power in the transfer market than their budget alone would command. He has a fine, if occasionally frustrating, midfielder in Lewis McGugan and if the 17-year-old defender Jamaal Lascelles lives up to his reputation then Forest will have one of the best young players in the division.

Doughty, the retiring multi-millionaire who has put £60m into Forest as chairman over the last 12 years, was not sat alongside McClaren yesterday but there is no doubt that it was he who sold the club to his new manager. "The best advice Sir Alex Ferguson gave me: join a football club with history and tradition but also make sure you have damn good owners," McClaren said. "We have one good owner here who has put a lot of money into this club. People must never forget that – he wants Nottingham Forest in the Premier League."

It was in one of those moments of disarming honesty that McClaren told a reporter who asked him if the England job had come too early in his career: "I can look you in the eye and honestly say 'Yes'.

"I like a challenge. Sometimes it is gutsy and risky and that's why sometimes I fall flat on my face because I do take that risk. This is a big and difficult challenge to get Nottingham Forest into the Premier League but I have belief and no hesitation. I have had failure and I don't fear it."

McClaren v Clough

Brian Clough won two League titles, two European Cups and four League Cups, mostly with Nottingham Forest, but unlike Steve McClaren he never managed England. The closest Clough came was an FA interview in 1977, whereas McClaren had 16 unhappy months in charge in 2006-07.

McClaren was propelled into the job after guiding Middlesbrough – for who Clough scored 197 goals as a player – to the Carling Cup in 2004 and the Uefa Cup final two years later. The only title McClaren has won was in the Netherlands with FC Twente last year.