Sam Wallace: Steve McClaren's Dutch courage should make English football proud

Talking Football: McClaren has left the big Dutch guns trailing a club who have never been champions

The last English manager to get a team into the Champions League was the late Sir Bobby Robson with Newcastle United in 2002. But that might well change this month with an English manager who has gone about building one of the most remarkable seasons in European football.

Steve McClaren is two wins away from the Dutch title and a place in next season's Champions League after his side FC Twente beat Heerenveen 2-0 on Saturday. He has left the traditional big guns of Dutch football trailing with a club who have never before been champions of the Netherlands in their 45-year history.

By way of comparison, it would be like Fulham winning the Premier League. It is a potentially stupendous achievement by an English coach, made all the more impressive because it is exactly the kind of challenge we should wish our brightest managers to undertake. We import so much coaching talent, redressing the balance of trade is a cause for celebration.

Would it be too much to ask English football to forget about the disappointments of England's failure to qualify for Euro 2008 and feel proud that McClaren is flying the flag for English managers overseas?

Should Twente get the necessary two wins in their remaining three games, starting with a big one against AZ Alkmaar tomorrow, then McClaren will have achieved something that so few Englishmen in modern times have accomplished. If it were anyone else, he would be regarded as a trailblazer but McClaren is still fighting the tired old prejudices that date back to that Euro 2008 qualifying campaign.

In the Netherlands, the description most commonly applied to McClaren is that he is a "gentleman", in the old, genteel English sense of the word. He does not say a great deal in the media but he is regarded as fair and even-tempered and in a quietly subversive way he has gone about toppling the established hierarchy of Dutch football, rather like Sir Alex Ferguson once did in Scotland with Aberdeen.

In fact there are even conspiracy theories in the rural eastern province of Twente that the Dutch football association (KNVB) do not want McClaren's team to win the title. The KNVB are said to fear that Twente are not sufficiently equipped to compete in the Champions League and a bad showing might harm the Netherlands' Uefa co-efficient – which dictates the number of qualifying places they get.

McClaren is not just up against the Dutch establishment and the big clubs in a country which traditionally produces some of the best coaches in the world; he is doing it on a shoestring budget and he is thriving. Football has plenty of stories of redemption and McClaren's is one of the very best.

Even if he does win the league this month there will be difficult decisions for McClaren over his future. He has one year left on his existing deal after this season but he faces having to rebuild his Twente team for the third time this summer with even the promise of Champions League football unlikely to persuade all his best players to stay.

The long-serving Swiss striker Blaise Nkufo has already agreed to join the Seattle Sounders next season in the MLS and the 35-year-old Danish midfielder Kenneth Perez will probably retire. Some of the biggest clubs in Europe are looking at Twente's Brazilian centre-back Douglas and top goalscorer Bryan Ruiz, the Costa Rican winger McClaren signed last summer. Ronnie Stam, a 25-year-old Dutch right-back, is also in demand.

Bought for £5m from Ghent, Ruiz has proved one of the most successful signings in European football this season – he scored a hat-trick in four minutes against Sparta Rotterdam just over two weeks ago. McClaren has used Twente's scouting network and his own contacts to assemble a team from the remains of the one that finished second last season and lost three key players, including Marko Arnautovic to Internazionale, for a total of £22m.

He has also proved himself a decisive, independent manager. When Twente's influential midfielder Theo Janssen was found to have been drunk when he was involved in car crash in November, McClaren led the way. He suspended Janssen for two months. It did not help Twente's title push but it was the right thing to do.

McClaren was never the caricature that some sought to portray him as; he was just a coach who, by his own admission, might have got the biggest job in English football a little too early. His achievement in reaching the Uefa Cup final in his last season at Middlesbrough was overshadowed by the walloping they got from Seville and his disintegrating relationship with chairman Steve Gibson and captain Gareth Southgate.

With England, he suffered the most abject injury crises of any recent manager in crucial matches. Yes, he made mistakes but against Croatia in that decisive game at Wembley in November 2007 he was without Wayne Rooney, John Terry, Rio Ferdinand, Ashley Cole, Wes Brown, Michael Carrick, Emile Heskey and Michael Owen.

The comparison with Fulham holds true in another respect. Their manager Roy Hodgson has deservedly been praised for his club's achievements this season. He too has had highs and lows in his career although none quite as dramatic as McClaren. Both of them are talented English managers; both of them have had great success with small clubs on limited budgets.

If we can give Hodgson the credit for restoring credibility to the reputation of the English manager then we must surely do the same for McClaren. He is English and he is making a success of himself in a competitive foreign league, making him something of a rare commodity.

Barcelona expose feeble failure of Perez's Real vision

What a pleasure to see Barcelona hammering Real Madrid at the Bernabeu on Saturday night, tightening their grip on top spot in La Liga in the process. The gross nature of Real's vast expenditure over the summer is largely overlooked by those in Uefa who seek to curb the excesses of English clubs.

Real Madrid's president Florentino Perez (below) tried to buy a team to compete with the reigning European champions and, on Saturday's evidence, he has failed miserably. By contrast, Barcelona finished the match with eight homegrown players on the pitch. The problem for Real is when you've bought the biggest names in the world and failed, where do you go next?

Bellamy excels himself

"I'm from Cardiff and for me, Cardiff is Wales. Beyond that it's something else – countryside, it's green. Outside Cardiff, you are Welsh without really being Welsh." Craig Bellamy's alleged comments in a French football magazine this week. Bellamy's masterpiece: he has called it on with his own country.

One Night in Turin will whet appetite ahead of World Cup

Pete Davies' excellent book All Played Out, about the 1990 World Cup finals, has been made into a film, One Night in Turin, in time to exploit the anticipation around this summer's tournament.

Having talked to one of the players from that 1990 World Cup squad who features heavily in the book – and some of the reporters who covered it – I get the sense that Davies surprised people by quoting what they considered to be "off the record" conversations.

It's a bit rich given the stick Davies gave some journalists in his book. Nevertheless, All Played Out is a classic and should be a great movie too.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
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

Fifa corruption: The 161-page dossier that exposes the organisation's dark heart

The 161-page dossier that exposes Fifa's dark heart

How did a group of corrupt officials turn football’s governing body into what was, in essence, a criminal enterprise? Chris Green and David Connett reveal all
Mediterranean migrant crisis: 'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves,' says Tripoli PM

Exclusive interview with Tripoli PM Khalifa al-Ghweil

'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves'
Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles: How the author foretold the Californian water crisis

Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles

How the author foretold the Californian water crisis
Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison as authorities crackdown on dissent in the arts

Art attack

Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison
Marc Jacobs is putting Cher in the limelight as the face of his latest campaign

Cher is the new face of Marc Jacobs

Alexander Fury explains why designers are turning to august stars to front their lines
Parents of six-year-old who beat leukaemia plan to climb Ben Nevis for cancer charity

'I'm climbing Ben Nevis for my daughter'

Karen Attwood's young daughter Yasmin beat cancer. Now her family is about to take on a new challenge - scaling Ben Nevis to help other children
10 best wedding gift ideas

It's that time of year again... 10 best wedding gift ideas

Forget that fancy toaster, we've gone off-list to find memorable gifts that will last a lifetime
Paul Scholes column: With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards

Paul Scholes column

With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards
Heysel disaster 30th anniversary: Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget fateful day in Belgium

Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget Heysel

Thirty years ago, 39 fans waiting to watch a European Cup final died as a result of a fatal cocktail of circumstances. Ian Herbert looks at how a club dealt with this tragedy
Amir Khan vs Chris Algieri: Khan’s audition for Floyd Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation, says Frank Warren

Khan’s audition for Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation

The Bolton fighter could be damned if he dazzles and damned if he doesn’t against Algieri, the man last seen being decked six times by Pacquiao, says Frank Warren
Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

Fifa corruption arrests

All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

How Stephen Mangan got his range

Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor