Sport on TV: McClaren ties himself in knots with his own spin
Saturday 29 March 2008
Brian Clough talked about going into politics, and as a big Labour man Alex Ferguson might have been similarly tempted if things had turned out differently. And you could have seen it – tub-thumping old-school politics conducted with heart and passion.
Then there's Steve McClaren, the latter-day version, the hollow man, the faceless, bloodless time-server. On Inside Sport (BBC1, Tuesday) he came over like a Cabinet minister on Today, saying nothing and being damned dull about it.
"You gave him a great opportunity," was the verdict of the Inside Sport pundit Des Kelly. "He had a wonderful opportunity to explain himself, to give the impression he's ready to come back into management. I don't believe he took it. I didn't get any sense that he understood where he'd gone wrong – was it the players, tactics, was it his own personal decisions – there was no admission there."
His colleague Tony Livesey was even more damning. "You're almost looking at a broken man," he said. "I don't think he's got the courage of his convictions."
What he does have, however, is the politician's love of rewriting history. Let's examine the evidence. On Inside Sport, Gabby Logan asked him, "Do you regret saying that [David Beckham] was no longer part of your plans?" He replied curtly, "I didn't say that. I just said at that present time this is what we're doing, this is the way we're going forward, and at that time it wasn't in our plans."
I think you'll find that's hogwash. This is what he said, on 11 August 2006: "I was planning for the future, and a different direction, and David wasn't included in that. I spoke with David on Monday, notified him of my decision and said I was planning for the future ... It was the sort of conversation that happens in football quite a few times. Things do move on ... and he accepted it."
And there's this, from David Beckham: New Beginnings, shown on ITV last July. He said McClaren told him on the phone: "In every team there's going to be casualties, and I'm sorry to say you're one of the casualties." I'd say that's conclusive – and it sounded conclusive to Beckham, who said, "It felt as if there was no way back."
Bang to rights, guv. What price integrity? As Livesey put it, "If he said he was coming back to any league club in England – and I include Leagues One and Two – I think the fans would revolt."
Think about it. A last-minute Beckham free-kick against Croatia would have saved McClaren's skin. And then were would we be? Still in the European Championship but facing another summer of discontent. We're lucky we found out he was useless when we did.
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