With his determination to explore new frontiers and to boldly go where no England England manager has been before, there has always been a touch of the captain James T Kirk about Steve McClaren.
Just before Manchester United journeyed to the Nou Camp to claim that 1999 Champions' League final, the then assistant manager at Old Trafford was enlightening a number of us as to the wisdom of Vince Lombardi, the iconic late coach of the Green Bay Packers.
The England coach has long embraced sporting cultures outside football. Later this month he is due to attend the NFL game between Seattle Seahawks and Minnesota Vikings at Qwest Field Stadium. McClaren is also seeking more profound thinking within the game, and one of his first acts after his appointment was to invite his sports psychologist at Middlesbrough, Bill Beswick, into the England set-up.
Some may view the US jaunt, during which he will meet Seattle's head coach, Mike Holm- gren, as an irrelevance; slightly wacky psycho-babble would be the response in some quarters to Beswick's contribution, conjuring, as it does, an image not totally divorced from that when Glenn Hoddle introduced Eileen Drewery to his squad.
But among the current England party, where there once may have been scepticism there is now belief in such techniques. Rio Ferdinand is a particularly staunch advocate of Beswick. "You can go and see him as an individual, which I do, or as part of the group," says the England defender. "Not everyone would admit it, but I don't mind saying that I go as an individual. I think he's good for me personally, though everyone's got their own take on it. Young players are not so easy to sway. They think the game's just about football and it all comes naturally. When Glenn Hoddle brought Eileen Drewery in, I thought it was a circus act.
"I wasn't open-minded as a kid. I thought you just went out and played. Simple as that. But later in my career, when I was more experienced and a bit wiser, I was open to suggestions. You try things, and if it works for you, you take it on board."
Ferdinand adds: "Bill gives you examples of other sports people, like Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods; elite athletes who are suc- cessful and very single-minded. He talks about the winning mentality they've had throughout their careers and how they've dealt with certain scenarios. That's what Bill's trying to bring to the squad: a winning mentality. If you want to be successful, you have to look to people like that. I find that inspiring."
McClaren's trip to the US and the utilisation of sports psychology emphasises that he will explore any means of gaining those extra percentages from his men. It also serves to emphasise that he should be regarded as "McClaren, His Own Man"; not "Sven, The Sequel".
"Even when Steve was assistant [to Eriksson], he had a few things to say to people," says Ferdinand. "Maybe he was a bit more restricted because he wasn't in charge. But I saw certain traits in the way he carried himself, and the way he attacked certain situations. I just got the impression that if he was coach he'd be a lot more forceful than he was as assistant."
In his new autobiography*, Ferdinand discusses the difference between the pair, in terms of temperament and tactics. He says of the Eriksson regime: "If you're not pulling your weight, not playing well, the manager needs [to let you] know. Under Sven that wasn't the case. I never heard anybody get a bollocking during his time as England coach, or get so much as a 'Listen, you're not doing this right'."
He adds: "Sven didn't like defenders running with the ball, but maybe there could have been more variation. Steve McClaren is encouraging me to do it now, and it's something the manager lets me do at United."
Ferdinand, the missed-drugs-test dummy who at one time became more familiar to tabloid readers for his alcohol and womanising excesses than his footballing prowess, once all too readily reinforced the jaundiced public view of his profession.
Today, the responsibility of fatherhood has brought a new maturity. That, allied to recent fine performances for club and country, means the Peckham boy is gradually casting off a negative perception, though Ferdinand as much as anyone is in a position to comprehend what Eriksson has endured post-Germany.
"I think there was a lot of stuff that went on when Sven was the manager, off the pitch more than on it," Ferdinand says. "If you're successful, everything else gets brushed under the carpet. But he wasn't, and he's there to be shot at. Rightly or wrongly, for whatever reasons people are shooting at him, and he's going to have to deal with that. He knew when he was appointed that he'd always be under the microscope."
The centre-back is candid about England's failure in the World Cup. "We were over-hyped," he concedes. "The public then started believing the hype, despite the fact that we hadn't really shown any signs of winning the tournament before-hand. People were talking about the England squad being fantastic individuals on paper. But Brazil showed that individuals don't win tournaments."
Teams do. The question now is: can McClaren's innovative methods instil a winning mentality within those players he has inherited from Eriksson?
Rio: My Story (Headline, £18.99)Reuse content