It was nine years since Steve McClaren had last faced Manchester United at Old Trafford, a ground he had come to know intimately. Then, as now, he had steered a North-East team in the form of Middlesbrough to a goalless draw against the odds and it would not have required a great leap of imagination to see him in the home dug-out before long.
He had, after all, been Sir Alex Ferguson’s No 2, he was assistant to an England side that were widely tipped, in this country at least, to win the upcoming World Cup in Germany. He had just taken Middlesbrough to a Uefa Cup final.
Nine years down the line and the head coach’s job at Newcastle was as good as it was going to get. England, Wolfsburg and Nottingham Forest were disasters, but winning the Dutch Eredivisie with FC Twente was a reminder of McClaren’s talents. He would not have known in April 2006 that Ferguson would stay at Old Trafford for another seven years and perhaps, like David Moyes, he would not have had the presence to step up to the task.
“Anyone coming in to succeed Sir Alex would have found it difficult because Manchester United was an institution and it was run by him,” said McClaren after leading Newcastle to a goalless draw. “I think Louis van Gaal is the best man to carry that on. I looked at it from the outside and felt that it needed someone of his stature and character to come in here. I have seen him do it in Holland and Germany.
“He started at Bayern Munich and the first six months were not very good but then he built and won the league. If anyone can turn it around he can. But there is a new philosophy here and that takes time to bed in.”
This was Wayne Rooney’s 10th match without a goal for Manchester United. The last time Rooney had endured this kind of run was in 2007. He then scored eight goals in seven matches in a season that climaxed with United retaining the championship and winning the European Cup.
“Rooney is very strong mentally with what he has been through,” said McClaren, who was managing him for England during that run. “He won’t be bothered because it will come. Look at the goals he has scored, anyone who thinks he has lost it just has to look at his record. He knows he’s going to score again. This Manchester United team, in the first 20 minutes here could have been two or three up. We survived that and it made the game a different story.”Reuse content