Sam Wallace: McClaren's Twente top the table to add shine to tarnished reputation

Talking Football

If it were any other English manager whose club were top of the Dutch first division, we would be consumed with excitement. But the English coach at the top of Dutch football is Steve McClaren. And McClaren's problem is that some people refuse to let him leave the past behind.

The renaissance of the former England manager's career has been a remarkable story, a brave fightback against the odds. Not many figures in English football – not many figures in English public life – have suffered the abuse and humiliation endured by McClaren. There will be MPs who resigned over the expenses scandal who are rehabilitated quicker. But McClaren has spent the last 14 months fighting back.

Saturday was the second anniversary of England's defeat to Russia in Moscow under McClaren, when they finally lost control over their destiny in qualification for Euro 2008. It was also the day that McClaren's FC Twente, undefeated in the league this season, beat AZ Alkmaar, the champions, who play Arsenal in the Champions League tomorrow.

Last year, McClaren inherited a Twente team who finished fourth in the league the previous season. Despite selling their best player, Orlando Engelaar, Twente finished second in the league under McClaren and reached the final of the Dutch Cup. That restored one coat of polish to a tarnished reputation but equally impressive was that McClaren stayed in Twente's town of Enschede – population 155,000 – to try to do it all over again this season.

McClaren is due to sign an extension to his current two-year contract and if he does leave Twente he is leaning towards a job in Portugal or Spain. His road to redemption is starting to look similar to that of another former England manager, the late Sir Bobby Robson.

There are, of course, some people who still find it funny to call him "Schteve" after his immersion in life in the Netherlands subconsciously furnished him with a Dutch accent. And it was amusing at the time to listen to McClaren give that television interview. But that was a year ago and if McClaren can grow up and leave the past behind, how about the rest of us doing the same?

McClaren's Dutch accent interview did make him sound a bit of a plonker but he was only attempting to be friendly and enthusiastic about his new club. He is not alone either. What monoglot Englishman would not admit privately that his own struggles with foreign languages have led him down some painful linguistic culs-de-sac while on holiday?

The pity about the Dutch accent episode is that it has obscured the brilliant job that McClaren has done at FC Twente. He plays a 4-3-3 system in the best traditions of Dutch football that Johan Cruyff has praised in his magazine column. Twente missed out on qualification for the Champions League only on away goals to Sporting Lisbon, a club with greater resources than those at McClaren's disposal.

Since then, McClaren has beaten Fenerbahce in Istanbul in the Europa League – in the same stadium where Fenerbahce beat Chelsea last year. But perhaps the most remarkable achievement of all is that McClaren has done it having sold around £30m of players since he took over at the club. He lost Engelaar to Schalke as soon as he took over and this summer Twente's Austrian striker Marko Arnautovic, 20, went to Internazionale in a deal worth around £12m. The winger Eljero Elia, 22, who was young player of the year in the Netherlands last season, left for Hamburg for £8m. Edson Braafheid, 26, a full-back, joined Bayern Munich for £2m.

McClaren has built his team all over again. From Vitesse Arnhem he bought the midfielder Theo Janssen, regarded as overweight and over-the-hill at 28, who has got back into shape and flourished at Twente. Ditto, Nicky Kuiper, 20, a defender who was rejected by Vitesse. The Costa Rica international Bryan Ruiz, 24, a winger, bought for £5m from Ghent, also looks promising.

It is tempting to think of McClaren as leading his coaching career in reverse. Eight years ago he was parachuted into big-spending Middlesbrough, having never before been a manager. Five years later he got the England job before his time. Now he has gone back to the start and embarked on a more natural route.

At Middlesbrough, McClaren had an enormous back-room staff which, in the good times, was taken as a sign of his modern approach. When things went wrong he looked more like a man who surrounded himself with advisers because he could not make his mind up. Yet he went to FC Twente alone and worked with the Dutch staff already there. Some will never forgive McClaren for England's lost summer of 2008. McClaren's problem was he used to care desperately what people thought; even when he said he did not, it was written all over his face. He was trapped by that preoccupation and acted accordingly, making his worst decisions, even the brolly, when he tried to anticipate how he would be perceived.

The best managers do not care. Look at Sir Alex Ferguson or Arsène Wenger, they behave on the touchline and in interviews without a hint of self-consciousness – sometimes badly, it has to be said – and they are beholden to no one. It takes confidence to be like that, a confidence that McClaren is now building at Twente.

If it was Stuart Pearce or Steve Bruce managing the club top of the Dutch league we would be talking about them as a potential future England manager. That moment has gone for McClaren and rather than despair, he should feel liberated by it.

Dunne deal helps O'Neill silence his critics at Villa Park

It was suggested in this column in August that Aston Villa fans might wish to show a bit more faith in Martin O'Neill, given the very vocal disillusionment they visited upon him during the opening day defeat to Wigan.

Victories over Liverpool – at Anfield – and Chelsea on Saturday, which have taken Villa to sixth in the table, have ensured those critics have been noticeably quieter. The 4-4-2 system that left certain sectors of the support so disgruntled was the same system that defeated Chelsea. As for their gripes about O'Neill's failure to sign a decent centre-half replacement for Martin Laursen, I think Richard Dunne has put that one to bed.

Is lack of free pens really a World Cup deal-breaker?

Having studied the fallout from Jack Warner’s criticism of England’s bid to host the 2018 World Cup, and the potential resignation as chairman of Lord Triesman from the 2018 board, the only material criticism I can discern of the committee is that they failed to sponsor the goody bags for delegates at a recent conference on football.

Never mind that England has the stadiums, the infrastructure and the football heritage, the real test comes when it is time to hand out free pens.

Again the question is: given who we have to suck up to, is 2018 worth it?

Fabio's stamp of approval

Great news that the England players have nicknamed manager Fabio Capello Postman Pat for his likeness to Greendale's finest. One only hopes that, unlike Pat and his CWU comrades, Capello will not be going on strike. He is the one man who always delivers.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
life
Arts and Entertainment
Cold case: Aaron McCusker and Christopher Eccleston in ‘Fortitude’
tvReview: Sky Atlantic's ambitious new series Fortitude has begun with a feature-length special
Voices
Three people wearing masks depicting Ed Miliband, David Cameron and Nick Clegg
voicesPolitics is in the gutter – but there is an alternative, says Nigel Farage
Voices
The veterans Mark Hayward, Hugh Thompson and Sean Staines (back) with Grayson Perry (front left) and Evgeny Lebedev
charity appealMaverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
News
i100
News
people
Sport
Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho
footballThe more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Life and Style
Vote green: Benoit Berenger at The Duke of Cambridge in London's Islington
food + drinkBanishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turn over a new leaf
News
Joel Grey (left) poses next to a poster featuring his character in the film
peopleActor Joel Grey comes out at 82
News
i100
News
business
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee