Matthew Norman: Do we not like Steve McClaren? No, we do not

The man least offensive to the majority has been chosen in an attempt at damage limitation
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The Independent Online

It is with heavy heart that we begin work today on the obituary to the England managerial career of Steve McClaren. Time being the mischievous prankster it is, it feels like only hours since he was confirmed in the post. And yet already the writing is on the wall.

At this stage, it must be stated that little blame for his failure belongs to the man himself. Rather, the fault lies with the transcendent incompetence of a Football Association whose handling of his appointment suggests that somewhere out of sight, pulling the strings throughout this tortuous process, were hidden the stubby fingers of Charles Clarke himself.

When the next series of The Apprentice begins, Alan Sugar should lock his applicants in the boardroom and play them a video detailing how one of the great offices of state came to fall into Mr McClaren's lap. Sir Alan's own career as a football executive was not impressive, and Tottenham Hotspur is only now starting to recover from his chairmanship. However, the FA's performance in seeking Sven Goran Eriksson's successor was, to dip into the lexicon of football cliché, different class, and deserves to be codified as a how-not-to-do-it manual for students of management around the globe.

You will recall from a week ago first the muted excitement as the FA unveiled Luiz Felipe Scolari, and then the incredulity hours later when the Brazilian re-veiled himself, citing media intrusion as his reason for staying with the Portuguese national side that beat England in Euro 2004. It is infinitely too poignant to dwell on that defeat. Suffice it to say that when Wayne Rooney limped out of that fixture with the sort of freakish injury (a broken metatarsal) that could never afflict the same player twice, England led Portugal and were cruising like eventual tournament winners.

Portugal eventually lost the final meekly to Greece, but two years previously Mr Scolari had led his own country to its fifth World Cup, and it's on that success that his reputation relies. There are those who think that with Ronaldo, Rivaldo and Ronaldinho at her disposal, Molly Sugden would have coached Brazil to victory in 2002 against the weakest World Cup field yet assembled, and it is true that a few months earlier Mr Scolari came within a match of being the first Brazilian coach to fail to qualify for the finals. He is no genius, then, but he does have immense experience and a fine record in international football, and would have been a passable choice for England.

One reason the FA offered him the job was that they had decided that no native candidate was remotely up to it. On this, if on nothing else, they were correct. The English make wretched football coaches, and always have. Sir Alf Ramsey blew the 1970 World Cup quarter-final against Germany with a substitution (Bobby Charlton) so bizarre that no one has properly explained it to this day, Don Revie scarpered to Araby when the pressure grew, Ron Greenwood was cultured but ineffectual, and Bobby Robson, who could scarcely remember his players' names, was astoundingly lucky to reach the semis in Italia '90 after his side had undeservedly survived maulings from Belgium and Cameroon.

Terry Venables and Glenn Hoddle were technically adroit, but the former wasn't trusted and the latter off his chump, while the best that could be said for Kevin Keegan is that he had the grace, on resigning, to admit his own inadequacy. As for Sven, a wonderfully dignified man undone primarily by the mandatory eve-of-tournament injuries to key players, his record suggests he is the best coach England has had.

The closest parallel to Mr McClaren, on the other hand, is the luminescently hapless Graham Taylor. He had enjoyed a good run of club form with Aston Villa, as Mr McClaren has with Middlesbrough, when the job fell vacant in 1990, but was swiftly exposed as comically ill-matched to the tactical demands of the job. The conclusion of Mr Taylor's tenure, with him standing on a Rotterdam touchline berating a Fifa official over a refereeing error with the unforgettably prophetic line "Your mate's just got me the sack", should have imposed a 500-year moratorium on the appointment of another Englishman.

It did no such thing, however, and here we are with the most gifted squad since Mr Taylor inherited Paul Gascoigne, Chris Waddle, Gary Lineker and the rest, about to fall under the care of a man who has won nothing of note in his career, and who seemed on the point of being sacked by his club a few months ago; a man so lacking in presence and stature that, when he became Alex Ferguson's deputy, the Manchester United chairman Martin Edwards introduced him at the press conference as Steve McClaridge.

If the question today is "Do we not like Steve McClaren?", the answer is "No we do not". No fewer than three quarters of respondents to a BBC radio poll disapprove of the appointment. Unwanted by a public infuriated by the Scolari incident and baffled by the failure to hire the strongest candidate, Martin O'Neill, Mr McClaren can expect little protection from his employers when the hysterical demands for his head ensue - partly because they are men to whom loyalty is a foreign country; and partly because most of them don't want him anyway.

The internal politics at the FA now appear so byzantine as to make the medieval Vatican look like Trumpton, with the feckless chief executive Brian Barwick powerless to prevent his colleagues building their own baronies and championing their own candidates. The result is that the man least offensive to the majority has been hurriedly chosen in an attempt at damage limitation so futile and desperate as to bring Charlie Clarke to mind once again.

English sporting administration, which in recent years alone has seen the twin shambles of the stadia at Picketts Lock and Wembley and the loss of live Test matches to terrestrial TV at the very apex of cricket's popularity, has been a joke for so long that the brilliance of the 2012 Olympic bid had to be read as a betrayal of cherished tradition.

The selection of Steve McClaren, a man of the most unimpeachable mediocrity, is a speedy restoration of the status quo... a reaffirmation that, for all the insistence on being a sports-mad country, we remain content to allow those sports to be run by people whose talents would be stretched by middle-ranking positions in the parking compliance department of a district council on one of those Orkney islands that have never quite got round to installing traffic lights.

Sympathy for Mr McClaren may be tempered by the £3m per annum he is said to have been offered, and the enormous pay-off he will soon enough receive. Even so, he is in for a hellish time in the interim, so let us hope he is enjoying his moment of triumph to the full. From here, it will be downhill very fast and all the way.

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