Relief not shock as Clifford calls time on losing game

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The Independent Online

Listeners must have thought they were dreaming on Thursday - the morning after the débâcle the night before - when a radio discussion about England was being conducted with Max Clifford.

A spoof or a send-up? No, the master of advice to "celebrities" was the man looking after the public image of Steve McClaren. Past tense, because 24 hours after his less than convincing championing of the England coach, Clifford cut his ties with the man he had begun to help after his spot of bother while manager of Middlesbrough.

McClaren had pulled out of a trip to North America - where he was planning to watch the Seattle Seahawks training - in favour of watching players in the Premiership. That must have seemed a sensible decision to any fans fretting over England's dreadful performance in losing 2-0 to Croatia in what could prove to have been a vital European Championship 2008 qualifying match.

The Football Association may have thought so too, but they will have been even more delighted with Clifford's departure from the scene. He was, after all, the man who steered Faria Alam, the former secretary at the FA, towards a £360,000 payment for the story of her liaisons with Mark Palios and Sven Goran Eriksson, then FA chief executive and England coach respectively. Clifford admitted as much. "Over the past couple of months it has become increasingly obvious to me that I am surplus to needs and that the FA want to take care of everything to do with the media," he said. "In the early stages Steve certainly seemed to understand [my advice] and I think a lot of the things I talked about, he would like to have done and thought were good ideas but it just didn't materialise."

Asked how much he thought McClaren understood about the media, Clifford said on BBC Radio Five Live: "Not a lot. Actions speak for themselves. The FA have obviously managed to convince him that they are capable of looking after his needs. In the early days the relationship was warm and friendly and had all the signs of a promising relationship."

Clifford said his relationship with McClaren was now "virtually non-existent". He claimed that it was not the manager's decision to pull out of the US trip and that kowtowing to your employer is a bad move. "Suddenly to do a full circle, to say 'we're not going', things like that to me show he is not making his own mind up any more, people are making up his mind for him," he said. "Once you start being dictated to by your bosses or the media then I'm afraid its a difficult but slippery slope downwards."

If England lose again as poorly as they did in Zagreb, McClaren could find his England career spinning downhill like an out of control toboggan. It's the results that count, of course.

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