Life in the spotlight starts here for McClaren

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The Independent Football

Steve McClaren has spent much of his coaching career in waiting.

The 45-year-old Yorkshireman, today appointed as England manager Sven-Goran Eriksson's successor, has trodden a deliberate path towards his dream.

After a moderately successful playing career, McClaren has learned his trade alongside men acknowledged to be among the best in the business.

He has assimilated what he has taken on board to such an extent that he will arrive, later this summer, in the England job with the necessary credentials and experience safely tucked away.

He is a man, however, who firmly believes a footballing education is an evolving entity and his thirst for knowledge will not be quenched when he walks through the door at Soho Square.

He will also be acutely aware that, in his new role, his performance will be dissected by the hour, his shortcomings magnified and his achievements remembered only until the next crisis comes along.

That is the nature of the job he has accepted, and one for which he is fully prepared after a carefully-planned and eventful apprenticeship.

York-born McClaren took his first step on the coaching ladder at Oxford, where he was put in charge of the youth team, although it was under Jim Smith at Derby that he got his big chance.

It was there, as assistant to the hugely-experienced Smith, that he started the process of gleaning all he could as the Rams won promotion to the Premiership and cemented themselves in the top division.

But it was after his move to Manchester United in 1999 that McClaren's meteoric rise began in earnest. Brian Kidd's departure gave him a chance to work under Sir Alex Ferguson.

Ferguson's meticulous planning and drive for success rubbed off on McClaren, who honed his own coaching skills to such an extent that Eriksson invited him to continue an involvement with the England squad which had begun in the wake of Kevin Keegan's departure.

By that point, however, he had already tasted success - he was at Ferguson's side on the night in 1999 when Barcelona's Nou Camp witnessed the stunning late comeback as United overturned a 1-0 deficit against Bayern Munich in the dying minutes to lift the Champions League trophy on their way to an unprecedented treble.

Having risen to prominence at Old Trafford, McClaren decided to take the plunge when the opportunity came along to manage a top-flight club in his own right.

West Ham looked favourites to land one of the country's most impressive young coaches, but Middlesbrough chairman Steve Gibson's vision for the future persuaded McClaren to opt for the Riverside Stadium in the summer of 2001.

An FA Cup semi-final appearance in his first season in charge was followed by Carling Cup success in 2004, and although there have been ups and downs along the way, Boro have undoubtedly come on as a club under McClaren's charge.

However, having led Boro into Europe for the second successive season, his tenure came under threat in February this year.

Hammered 7-0 at Arsenal a few weeks earlier, the Teessiders slumped to a 4-0 home drubbing by Aston Villa, and calls for the manager's head reached their peak when a disgruntled fan ran in front of the Riverside dug-out and threw his season ticket at McClaren in disgust.

But resilience is a quality which the affable McClaren, a grittily determined man, possesses in abundance.

Tellingly, his response was swift and decisive.

A 3-0 league win over champions Chelsea silenced the critics, and UEFA Cup success over Stuttgart, Roma, Basle and Steaua Bucharest as Boro marched into next week's final - an achievement which has seen his stock soar.

McClaren, so long viewed as the FA's candidate of choice, was barely even registering in the early betting, but within weeks he was again at the head of the queue for the England job.

He regarded the speculation with distanced amusement.

"I said it 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," he declared at the time. "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, as much as I was two months ago when all the stick and criticism was flying around.

"But we have held our nerve and come through it and are getting the rewards for that at the moment."

Boro's progress under McClaren has been methodical, but marked; he has been branded a negative coach who lacks passion - an accusation he angrily dismisses - but has worked wonders with the club's youth system to produce a string of first-team players.

His ability to maintain a healthy sense of perspective will serve him well in his new job, but that does not mean he will lack ambition.

He has never made any secret of his hopes of making it all the way to the top one day.

"I am very ambitious, but I've got to keep achieving at Middlesbrough to maybe get an opportunity later on in my career," he said after first being labelled a future international manager.

"It is flattering to be linked. International football is so different to domestic football and I know that.

"I achieved a lot at Manchester United. I always worked with the top players, I have come here (to Middlesbrough) and become the first man in 10 years to win a trophy.

"Those are the credentials I believe I have."

McClaren has spent the first part of his managerial career developing potential; the latest phase will involve doing much the same, although initially it will be his ability in the spotlight.