Shadow of club legends hangs over McClaren
Jobless Keane and O'Neill are unwittingly adding to pressure on Forest manager
Sunday 02 October 2011
Cutting a forlorn figure at the side of a football pitch has not exactly been good for Steve McClaren's career and after the folly with a brolly that indelibly marked the end of his tenure as England coach he might have thought twice about inviting the kind of images that accompanied Nottingham Forest's midweek drubbing at Burnley.
Pictures of McClaren sitting alone in the dug-out suggested that the Forest manager is becoming isolated, a supposition not discouraged by the removal of his close ally, Bill Beswick, the sports psychologist who worked with him at Derby, Manchester United and Middlesbrough as well as having a role in the England set-up. Beswick was hired as performance coach at Forest but has been told after a management reshuffle that his position no longer exists.
In fact, McClaren took his place in an otherwise empty technical area after Forest had shipped four first-half goals at Turf Moor only because – with echoes of Phil Brown's infamous on-the-field team talk for Hull at Manchester City – he had marched his players out of the dressing room so they could not hide from the wrath of their supporters.
"We have a responsibility to the fans and sometimes you have to face up to that," McClaren said. "The circumstances only required a short team talk. There was anger, there were home truths and to sit in the dressing room for another 10 minutes would have taken the message away."
After only two wins from nine Championship games anything other than victory against Birmingham at the City Ground today will only increase the pressure on McClaren less than three months after Forest sacked Billy Davies.
Forest have not been a force in the Premier League since finishing third in 1995 under Brian Clough's successor, Frank Clark, and while the club have sometimes viewed their past as more burden than asset there is a lobby among fans for history to be embraced again and for the club to look within "the family" for its managers.
England's Under-21 coach, Stuart Pearce, prematurely elevated to the role as Clark's short-lived replacement, is much better qualified now, while there would be no shortage of support for Martin O'Neill or Roy Keane. O'Neill is thought to favour a return at the top level 14 months after quitting Aston Villa but Keane, after mixed results so far at Sunderland and Ipswich, could see Forest as the ideal place to rebuild his reputation.
Ironically, Clark was at the City Ground on Friday to support fellow former European Cup winner John Robertson at the launch of his autobiography Super Tramp (Mainstream). Robertson was O'Neill's assistant at Leicester, Celtic and Aston Villa, but he was keen to quell talk of a return to Forest.
"Steve McClaren just needs to be given more time," he said. "Everyone wants instant success but you don't get that. It reminds me a little of our early days at Leicester, which were very difficult, particularly for Martin. You just have to come through it and hopefully thingsget better."
It has been an eventful week for McClaren, quite apart from the drama of Turf Moor. After his position appeared to be strengthened by the removal of David Pleat from his divisive role on the club's transfer acquisitions panel – an outcome that three years of sniping by Davies could not achieve – the loss of Beswick weakens it.
Indeed, McClaren seems already to accept the possibility that his own reign may be short-lived.
"I came here knowing what I wanted to achieve and obviously I'm disappointed that the parameters have changed. I've said to the club that at any stage if they feel it is not working, if the fans feel it is not working, if the players feel it is not working, we'll sit around the table like gentlemen and go our separate ways."
Nottingham Forest v Birmingham City is this afternoon, kick-off 3pm
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