Empty words fail to mask confusion and contradiction

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As ever with Steve McClaren, and even once he no longer held the job of England head coach, there were more questions than answers. For 18 months his methods, ideas, philosophies and beliefs have been shrouded in a heavy sea of obfuscation, a barrage of buzz-words – and the constant contradictions. He did not depart from the predictable script yesterday in his final press conference, describing the post that had always appeared to overwhelm him as a "privilege and great honour".

In one breath there were phrases such as "I take full responsibility" and the familiar, stuttering refrain of "it's about results on the field. Qualification. Judge me on that. You have. Everyone has. Ultimately, I'll not be given another chance". But then that was quickly followed by a declaration that he never felt it necessary to quit – and would not have changed a thing. "I've never walked away from anything," McClaren said. "There was no reason [to resign]."

In truth there were £2.5m reasons not to resign – the hefty pay-off he will receive, one year of his salary, as the Football Association exploits the break clause in his four-year contract at the end of this European Championship qualification campaign. McClaren, understandably, insisted it was not about money. "It was never in my mind," he said and maybe it was not. "It's not down to financial motivations."

And in the way he spoke about his pride and sadness, being first and foremost a "fan" who has enjoyed "every minute" of his 18 months in charge, there was undoubtedly genuine sentiment. But it is not a job for a cheerleader and McClaren has always given the impression of being wide-eyed. And it is certainly not a job for someone who appeared in awe of his surroundings, who wanted to be an everyman, a friend to all.

"The 18 months have been a fantastic experience," McClaren added, sounding like he had just completed a work-placement before adding, as if it was something to put on to his CV, "I'm proud to have managed my country and I'm a better manager now than I was 18 months ago." Maybe that prompts the question, given the paucity of his team's performance on Wednesday – and no one should exonerate the players even if McClaren, predictably, attempted to – of just how poor a manager he was when he succeeded Sven Goran Eriksson.

McClaren, with his wife Kathryn at the back of the room, was speaking in one of the banqueting halls of the Sopwell House Hotel near St Albans. It used to be England's regular team base and it was from there that the players had issued their "strike" threat after Rio Ferdinand was banned from playing for the national team following his failure to attend a drugs test. That raised the issue of player-power and the dominance of millionaire footballers and McClaren was not prepared to do anything to challenge that.

"The players gave me total support," he said. "Their attitude was perfect throughout. They've all been in touch. I've had massive support from them, from the staff behind the scenes. I'm really touched by that. I've worked with them for over six years now. No matter what people may say, and the criticism that comes their way, they're a fantastic bunch of players. They really want to achieve. Unfortunately, we've come up short. We all take responsibility for that, but unfortunately I do. We need to get behind our England team and support these players. I'm sure I'll be talking with Brian [Barwick] about that [the deep-lying problems]."

There are undoubtedly deeper problems and the discussion over what McClaren called "issues" was one he clung on to yesterday. Not that he was willing to engage in the debate or offer any solutions. "Umm ... I can't answer that," he said when asked what exactly is going wrong in English football. "That's for them [the FA] to answer. The only thing I could go on ... there are two issues. Results, which I know if you don't get the results you're in danger of losing your job. I knew that. Sometimes you're in a difficult situation and, if we didn't qualify, that would put the board in a difficult situation. I can understand the criticism, the reaction. It hurts me, disappoints me. But that's football. I'll be stronger in the future.

"The issues have been out there for 18 months. I've discussed them publicly, privately. They'll be debated. You don't need me to join in with that. Maybe at a future date you'll get that. There are issues because we failed to qualify. It isn't just one issue. There are quite a few. They'll come out into the open, the overall conditions in the game, the conditions we're working in. Can they be improved to give the England players a better chance? That wasn't for me to judge. I'm expected to get results."

And he summarily failed to do that. "This is a sad day, but I'll recover. I'll bounce back," McClaren said. "I'm not one to lie on a beach. I've learnt some lessons. I'll learn from this and move on. I'm not making any excuses. We had 12 games to do it. I can point to conditions, injuries, bad luck, decisions, but ultimately we failed to qualify over 12 games."

At the end of the campaign England have finished third in Group E behind Croatia and Russia. Is that a fair reflection? "We are where we are as a team," McClaren said. "Ultimately, as a team, as a squad. You can talk about individuals. At the present moment, that's where we are [third in the group]. You deserve to be where you finish. At this present moment, I wouldn't change anything [about selection]. It's a great job. A great job. And it's even better if you can get it right." And with that final piece of confusion, he was gone.

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