A text message from Manchester has been the limit of Steve McClaren's contact in the past 48 hours with Sir Alex Ferguson, the man who oversaw much of his managerial education. But when the two do eventually talk, Ferguson may well tell the 46-year-old that he was too young to take on the England job.
Ferguson, who believes that the decision to sack McClaren the morning after England's defeat to Croatia set a bad example to those within club football who go in for "knee-jerk reactions", also indicated yesterday that he believes the role of managing a country is an older man's game. And, as he is so often inclined to do, Ferguson cited Jock Stein, who took over Scotland at the age of 58, as his case in point.
"For a young manager taking on the international job, the difficulty is killing the time you have – or making sure the job takes up all of your time," Ferguson said. "Making yourself busy enough; using your energies the right way. I always thought Jock Stein was the perfect age to be an international manager. I remember travelling with him to Germany and people coming up to shake his hand – like [Franz] Beckenbauer. Anyone in football [would], because [of] his experience and his record. He had this great presence."
Ferguson kept his counsel on the England side's performance but was less circumspect about the state of the Wembley pitch on Wednesday night. "The first thing I thought about when I watched the game was the pitch. They spent £800m on Wembley. It is supposed to be the best stadium in the world – I don't think it is by the way – and I thought Jesus Christ give the boys a chance!"
The United manager resisted any temptation to use events against Croatia as an illustration of why limits might be set on the numbers of foreign players in the Premier League, a line followed by Sven Goran Eriksson, who left a mobile phone message of his own for McClaren - "I don't think he wants to answer the phone too much," the Manchester City manager said.
Spanish and Italian club sides are equally bereft of home grown talent, Eriksson argued. But the Swede, who went straight out and bought eight foreign players when hired by City this summer, vividly illustrated the limited supply of English players available for the Premier League when he said that he would need to sell his club's stadium to buy domestic players of the calibre he needs.
"I can get [English players] but they cost too much," Eriksson said. "I [can] go and find a player like, shall we say, Elano and [Martin] Petrov, but where can I find that kind of player who is English? I [would] have to go and buy Wayne Rooney, [or Theo] Walcott."
It was left to a German – Eriksson's midfielder Dietmar Hamann – to provide solace in this hour of need. Hamann was shocked by England's exit but he cited France's failure to qualify for the 1994 World Cup under Gérard Houllier – a catalyst for that country's footballing renaissance – as an example of how things might be for England.
"It might be a blessing. Maybe you'll sit here in 10 years and [say that] the failure in 20007 transformed English football," said Hamann.Reuse content