McClaren launches England inquest

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The Independent Football

Steve McClaren might have been accused of selecting the wrong team in England's defeat in Croatia this month but he has already started trying to pick up the pieces. The England manager began the rebuilding process with a recent restaurant meeting with his northern-based players and will see the rest of the squad over the next few days.

The Independent has learnt that McClaren had dinner in Manchester with more than 10 England players from clubs including Manchester United, Liverpool and Everton for an open-minded and frank discussion about what went wrong in Zagreb on 11 October. He plans to see the London and southern-based members of the squad this week, and he will speak to everyone either in person or over the telephone before they meet on 13 November ahead of the Netherlands friendly.

The Manchester meeting included McClaren's assistant, Terry Venables, the team psychologist, Bill Beswick, and the goalkeeping coach, Ray Clemence. The discussion centred upon training methods, preparation and, inevitably, formation - 3-5-2 having been the system that failed so badly in the 2-0 defeat at the Maksimir Stadium. The informal feedback sessions are unprecedented for an England coach and were not a feature under the regime of Sven Goran Eriksson, although he did stay in telephone contact with his players. The players are understood to have responded enthusiastically to the meetings with McClaren.

McClaren has no intention of allowing the players to dictate to him tactics or team selection but, with such a long gap between the Croatia game and the next Euro 2008 qualifier against Israel in March, wanted to maintain contact. In the immediate aftermath of the defeat to Croatia, he had only a few minutes with the players before having to fulfil media commitments and has not had a chance for a full debrief.

Given the scope of the criticism that the players and their manager have had to endure since the Croatia game, the meetings were a chance for McClaren to begin discussing with his players how he wants them to approach the Netherlands friendly in Amsterdam on 15 November. It may only be a friendly but, with the memory of defeat to Croatia and the 0-0 draw with Macedonia still fresh, a good performance has become crucial for the McClaren regime.

Despite the criticisms that McClaren has endured, the players have responded favourably to his training methods. The England manager has always concentrated on high-tempo, varied sessions and the players are understood to be impressed with that side of the new England set-up.

The 3-5-2 formation that was used against Croatia, however, is unlikely to make a return. The system too often became 5-3-2 with Gary Neville and Ashley Cole pushed back into their regular full-back positions on the flank. Although it was McClaren's final decision to go with 3-5-2, the original idea came from Venables who championed it because of the suspension to Steven Gerrard and the injuries to Joe Cole, Owen Hargreaves and Aaron Lennon.

McClaren's dinner-table discussions are the first part in the long journey to get England's Euro 2008 qualifying campaign back on track.

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