Shrewdly does it for McClaren in Becks-free era

Coach shows neat footwork as he distances himself from Eriksson, his favourite son, his tactics and his style and picks passion and pace
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The Independent Football

The only one of England's 10 previous full-time managers to have lost his opening match was, oddly, the future World Cup winner Sir Alf Ramsey. After an embarrassing 5-2 defeat by France in Paris he sat down next to the captain, Jimmy Armfield, and inquired in that dry manner of his: "Do we always play like that?"

Steve McClaren, who takes charge for the first time in a friendly against Greece at Old Trafford on Wednesday, has the advantage of knowing exactly how England play. What is unclear after his time as Sven Goran Eriksson's senior coach, encompassing the last three major tournaments, is how much influence he has had on it. "Not me, guv" was the conclusion to be drawn from a series of interviews at the appropriately named Landmark Hotel in London's Marylebone Road on Friday, and whether or not Max Clifford is still offering any public relations advice, it was a shrewd approach.

Had England returned from Germany last month in triumph, or anything approaching it, McClaren would have been foolish to shun the reflected glory. Given the dismal nature of the retreat from the Ruhr, however, it is very much in his interests to distance himself from all that went on.

The banishment of David Beckham is clearly a part of that process. So is the need McClaren stressed for so many of the elements in which Eriksson and his teams were deficient, emphasising the need for "width, pace and penetration" on the pitch, "passion" from the coaches as well as the players, mental preparation and hands-on coaching.

"The head coach is the head coach and makes all the decisions," he said at one point, cleverly passing the responsibility for the World Cup débâcle to his predecessor at the same time as accepting accountability for what happens from now on.

When he praised Eriksson's qualities and achievements, it sounded as though there was a "but" coming, which duly arrived: "I have great respect for Sven and built up a great friendship with him. His record for qualifying for tournaments is second to none.

"But I remember leaving Manchester United and trying to get advice from Alex [Ferguson]. He said 'be your own man, be yourself, don't be like me and don't be like anybody else, you have to be you and if you're not, people will see through it'. Me being me is totally different from Sven being Sven. It's bound to be different."

One of the first changes the players will notice will be in tomorrow's inaugural session at Manchester United's Carrington training centre. The head coach will not be standing, Eriksson-style, in the centre circle with arms folded, gnomically observing proceedings. "I certainly won't be standing back," McClaren promised. "That's my strength, coaching on the field, working with the players, as it's Terry's strength, and there's a lot of work to be done."

Employing Terry Venables, the first former England manager to return to the fold in any capacity, has already been seen variously as a sign of self-confidence or of insecurity on McClaren's part, though it can hardly be both. The risk, from his point of view, is that if and when results falter, there is a ready-made caretaker in situ; the bonus is to have so close at hand someone who has done the job and who, furthermore, is regarded by most players who have expressed an opinion as one of the very best coaches they have worked with. And someone, too, whom McClaren significantly describes as "passionate about England".

The other members of the back-room staff are less well known. Of Steve Round, the 35-year-old who also worked at Middlesbrough, McClaren says: "I'm a great believer in the technology side of things, a great advocate of Prozone and measurement of performance and Steve is very, very good at that, a very good young coach who's come through the system and has the potential to be one of the best in the country."

As the first sports psychologist to work with the senior England squad, Bill Beswick, the former British basketball coach, specialises in another area that has always interested McClaren: "At the top level in any sport the mental side is a big, big side of the game which I've been exploring since I came into coaching. Working with these players, with so many agendas they have to deal with on and off the field we should give them any help we can. A lot of things are won and lost on the mental side."

As for the football that England will attempt to play from Wednesday onwards, the emphasis appears to be swinging back to traditional British virtues. "I like pace, directness and players who can beat players, and I've introduced quite a few who can do that," McClaren said. "Maybe that's the little bit of difference you can see straightaway."

Hello Aaron Lennon, goodbye Becks. The inference has to be that if McClaren had had the final say on substitutions, if not team selection, in Germany, more might have been seen of the quick and clever little Tottenham winger, who was given a quarter of an hour against Trinidad & Tobago, three minutes (!) against Ecuador and then a longer stint at last when Beckham came off injured in the fateful quarter-final.

Sensing the way the wind was blowing, Beckham had hoped to get away with making a sacrifice by standing down as captain the day after England were knocked out. His supporters (a surprisingly high number, to judge from Radio Five Live's straw poll on Friday night) will contend that McClaren has cut off his nose to spite his face, but if pace and directness are the watchwords of the new regime, it is impossible to see a way back for Eriksson's favourite son.

Nor will McClaren set much store by public opinion. On the day he took office two weeks ago, a poll in a national newspaper asked whether he would still be England's head coach in a year's time, more than halfway through the European Championship qualifying campaign. The "yes" vote was a less than resounding 54 per cent. Unlike Sir Alf, he can hardly afford to make a losing start this week.

Who's hot, or not: Ins and outs of McClaren's men

HOT

Phil Neville: Everton's Mr Utility tends to raise a groan when his name is announced because many fans think he's dull. But he is also Mr Reliable.

Darren Bent: Unlucky to miss out on a place in the World Cup squad to a younger man. His ability to score regularly has been spotted.

Dean Ashton: Suffered in the same way as Bent. But now we will all see whether he is as good as some say.

Shaun Wright-Phillips: Spell in the shadows at Chelsea has finally borne fruit.

NOT

David Beckham: Farewell. But who will the critics hate now?

Scott Parker: Is he paying for being captain of Newcastle United?

Andrew Johnson: Being down the pecking order obviously was not the fault of Crystal Palace.

Theo Walcott: Oh well. Back to kindergarten.

ENGLAND SQUAD

P Robinson (Tottenham)

C Kirkland (Liverpool)

B Foster (Manchester Utd)

W Bridge (Chelsea)

W Brown (Manchester Utd)

J Carragher (Liverpool)

A Cole (Arsenal)

M Dawson (Tottenham)

R Ferdinand (Manchester Utd)

G Neville (Manchester Utd)

P Neville (Everton)

J Terry (Chelsea, capt)

L Young (Charlton)

S Downing (Middlesbrough)

S Gerrard (Liverpool)

O Hargreaves (Bayern Munich)

J Jenas (Tottenham)

F Lampard (Chelsea)

A Lennon (Tottenham)

K Richardson (Manchester Utd)

S Wright-Phillips (Chelsea)

D Ashton (West Ham)

D Bent (Charlton)

P Crouch (Liverpool)

J Defoe (Tottenham)

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