Barwick resolutely upbeat as McClaren era dawns

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The Independent Football

Some might say that the fact that Sven Goran Eriksson's right-hand man for the last three major tournaments has been Steve McClaren is a worrying sign that things, rather than get better, are more likely to stay the same. But not the man who helped appoint him, the Football Association's chief executive Brian Barwick, who was insistent yesterday that Steve McClaren's involvement will be a "huge positive" when he assumes the reins.

"England start again in August in a new era with a new coach and we have to be positive and we are positive about that," said Barwick. "What I see as a huge positive, and I've watched it up close in the last three weeks, is the value Steve has got from being around the players for a long time, focused on a major tournament. He's been around these players for a long time and they have a huge respect for him. I've seen him coaching on the training pitch and he is ready to go. I've got huge optimism."

Barwick defended the appointment of Eriksson, who had a good record in competitive fixtures but could not reach a semi-final.

England were tipped as possible winners of this year's World Cup, although Barwick suggested just qualifying is the most important part of the England boss's job.

"First and foremost the England coach has to qualify for major tournaments," Barwick said. "We've seen over the last three weeks exactly what England in a major tournament is about - 30 million people galvanised. We succeeded in qualifying for three - I've been around long enough to remember World Cups where England were not there. Let's see qualifying as a positive then we need to get through group stages which we have done.

"My view is that we're always trying to make progress and we leave Germany a little bit early.

"Sven's done fantastically well, I've enjoyed his company and knew him before I took this job 18 months ago. He's been a very good coach for England and has had the respect of the players and his coaching staff and I wish him well. His record is very impressive really."

McClaren may not have been the FA's first choice - just ask Luiz Felipe Scolari, who turned the job down, but having seen Eriksson's reign effectively ended by the hugely successful Brazilian, he is the man handed the task of helping John Terry, Steven Gerrard, Wayne Rooney and Michael Owen - and who knows, maybe even Theo Walcott - achieve their dreams on the international stage.

Whatever else his critics may say about him, McClaren has been groomed for his latest job. He honed his coaching skills under Jim Smith at Derby County and Sir Alex Ferguson at Manchester United before taking the plunge into management in his own right with Middlesbrough.

The fact that the 45-year-old Yorkshireman will walk into his office at Soho Square with as many detractors as he has supporters is something he will accept philosophically.

Indeed, it is a similar situation to the one with which he had to deal for much of his time at the Riverside Stadium despite the knowledge that he is beyond doubt the most successful manager in the club's history.

A hugely ambitious man, McClaren has portrayed a modest facade, all the while knowing that in the surreal world of football, only a couple of bad results stand between a good manager and one on borrowed time.

That was never more apparent than last season when, three months after facing calls for his sacking following a 4-0 home defeat by Aston Villa, he had guided Boro to a 3-0 demolition of champions-elect Chelsea and into the Uefa Cup final and an FA Cup semi-final.

He said at the time: "I said a couple of months ago, I'm not that bad a manager and I'll say it now, I'm not that great a manager. You are always somewhere in between. I know my results and my record and what we have brought to Middlesbrough over the last five years and I'm proud of that."

A healthy sense of perspective will serve McClaren well as he embarks upon the latest phase of his career in the glare of a spotlight which has more than once left Eriksson mesmerised.

There are those who believe he has been tainted before he has even begun by his association with the Swede; after all, he was in the dug-out the night Ronaldinho knocked England out of the 2002 World Cup, there again when Portugal dumped them out of Euro 2004 and at his side in Germany.

As a trusted lieutenant, he will have had his say on team selection and tactics. His defence will be that as No 2, the buck lay elsewhere. It is not an argument he will be able to use any longer.

McClaren's management style never quite won over the Middlesbrough faithful - he angrily refutes suggestions that he is either a cautious or passionless manager, although if you had to put your shirt on a team to get a 0-0 draw, he would be the man you would want in charge of it.

He is at his best on the training pitch, where his meticulous planning moulded a limited Boro side into one tough to beat. It was only then, with signings and the development of promising youngsters, that he started to transform them.

"Over the next four years, we have a possibility of winning a major tournament," he said when he was appointed. I definitely believe that."

Which sounds all too familiar...

England's next fixtures

* 16 AUG v GREECE (Old Trafford) Friendly

* 2 SEP v ANDORRA (Old Trafford) European Championship qualifier

* 6 SEP v MACEDONIA (away) EC qualifier

* 7 OCT v MACEDONIA (Old Trafford) EC qualifier

* 11 OCT v CROATIA (away) EC qualifier

* 15 NOV v NETHERLANDS (away) Friendly