The outcome of tomorrow's Carling Cup final is certain. For the first time in eight years an English manager will win a major trophy in England.
It may be significant that in 1996, when Brian Little's Aston Villa overcame Leeds, it was to win the League Cup, by far the least-regarded of the three domestic titles on offer. It is a dozen years since an English manager won his own championship (Howard Wilkinson with Leeds) and you would have go back to 1985 to find a year when all three trophies were won by Englishmen.
In no other major European nation would this happen. Italy's Serie A has no foreign coaches, while the Bundesliga, Spain's Primera Liga and Le Championnat in France have 11 in total. The Premiership alone has 10, a figure complicated because Scots are classed as "foreign" in a way that Bavarian managers would not be in Germany.
"What pleases me most about this final is that it is between two clubs outside the top four and with two English managers," said Steve McClaren, born in York 43 years ago. "It is encouraging for other English managers and there are some very good ones around. The English managers coming through - the majority I would say - are under 50 like myself. But we have to gain this experience."
Should Sven Goran Eriksson choose to fill his wallet with Roman Abramovich's roubles after this summer's European Championship, then McClaren would be favourite to succeed him, despite the fact that in two and half seasons under him Middlesbrough have finished 12th, 11th and are currently 13th. His rival tomorrow, Bolton's Sam Allardyce - born in Dudley - famously remarked he would have been given more credit had his surname been Allardicci, adding that the only way another Englishman would manage in the Premiership would be to win promotion from the First Division.
McClaren, as you would expect, is more diplomatic. "English managers are coming back. It's been helped by the FA encouraging coaching badges and the expansion of the League Managers' Association but for the trend to turn, English managers have to have some degree of success."
Success is a relative term on Teesside. Boro have, famously, never won a significant trophy and never finished higher than fourth in England's top-flight, despite being part of the élite for half their history. The author Harry Pearson, writing in his seminal book on North-east football, The Far Corner, thought it significant that the prize possessions of Middlesbrough's civic art gallery were a pair of paintings of Purgatory by Hieronymous Bosch. Gareth Southgate, part of Little's side in 1996, remarked there was a different, lesser atmosphere when you walked into the Riverside Stadium precisely because Boro had achieved so little.
"Sometimes, to be successful, you have to make history, you have to put a marker down," McClaren said. It would be a fitting present to his chairman, Steve Gibson, who has pumped tens of millions into a club which before his arrival a decade ago had never travelled beyond the sixth round of the FA Cup or a League Cup semi-final.
McClaren says it was Gibson who persuaded him to leave Manchester United, where he had been Sir Alex Ferguson's deputy. "It was the ambition he showed when I first met him. To deliver a first trophy would be some way to reward him."
At Old Trafford, McClaren oversaw the capture of five trophies. But then, he was somebody's assistant. "It is different doing it yourself," he smiled. Tomorrow in Cardiff, he will be on his own.Reuse content