Steve McClaren: Only Confusion Reigns…

Date published: Monday 24th August 2015 1:18

Steve McClaren: Only Confusion Reigns...

You don’t hear the phrase ‘I don’t know’ in football much these days. There are too many people out there that will – in some cases rightly, in some cases on this website – jump all over you for being an ill-informed buffoon.
The thing is though, it’s fine to say ‘I don’t know.’ Really, don’t worry about it, it’s fine. Not everyone knows about everything. The chances are that if you really don’t know, you’ll make more of a fool of yourself by trying to blag it than if you just say “No idea, ask someone else, big horse.”
So with that in mind, answer this question: do you really know if Steve McClaren is a good manager? Because if you can answer it definitively either way, there’s a good chance you’re full of bluster, a hugely embittered Wolfsburg fan, or Steve McClaren.
What a curious career McClaren has had, lurching from promise and success, to calamitous failure and ignominy with little warning. McClaren’s managerial career began with help from cache that anyone who helped out Alex Ferguson seemed to have, with he, Brian Kidd and Carlos Queiroz all propelled into jobs of varying quality on the basis of them being the old boy’s right-hand man. The latter two both definitely turned out to have more than a whiff of ‘assistant to the regional manager’ about them, while Mike Phelan sat contentedly back after Fergie’s retirement and waited for the offers to roll in, occasionally turning his phone off and on again, just to check it was still working.
McClaren did pretty well at Middlesbrough – very well, in fact, given that he won them their first trophy since 19-dickety-2, took them to the UEFA Cup final and turned in a series of solid league finishes. Then came the England job, a curious time that now feels a little like a dream. A dream that features you turning up somewhere without anything on your bottom half, a beloved family pet having a sad accident involving an industrial thresher, and picking three-at-the-back in Croatia.
After that he managed FC Twente and, once everyone got over laughing at his silly accent, guided them to their first ever league title, prompting Wolfsburg to swoop. They very rapidly wished they hadn’t bothered. He was invited to do one there and returned to England, where he thought an appropriate use of Nottingham Forest’s money was to pay Ishmael Miller £16,000-a-week, an approach to monetary shrewdness matched only by his ability to organise a defence, and another relationship ended before it really began.
He ignored the advice of ‘they’ by going back to Twente, which again didn’t go brilliantly. That then leads us to Derby. There he turned a plodding set of moderate-achievers into the best team in the Championship, only denied promotion last season by their wretched form before his arrival and one of the most heinous muggings football has ever seen in the play-off final. Bobby Zamora and QPR made off with their place in the top flight like the Hamburglar with a sack full of McNuggets.
Their dominance continued through the majority of this season, before a collapse even more dramatic than that time Madonna fell over at the Brits saw them drop not only from the automatic promotion, but out of the playoff spots too. They weren’t even able to manage the mere draw they required against Reading – a team they spanked like Frank Bough earlier in the season – on the final day.
So there we have it. A career that’s difficult to know what to make of. A collection of stratospheric highs and Mariana Trench lows. Success and failure flowing into each other with a concerning ease, his abilities unpredictable either way. This season with Derby seemed to sum it up rather nicely – success, then very quickly and without much warning, failure. It was a choke of flamboyant proportions, an unexpected balls up to rival the worst in the game, but oddly this didn’t seem to hamper his reputation particularly.
Most managers who had presided over a shambles like that would probably start to worry about their position, but instead McClaren was, incredibly, reportedly on the shortlist for a couple of Premier League jobs. It might say more about Newcastle and Sunderland that they consider him a suitable candidate to turn their particular ships around, but it is still remarkable that a manager whose stock is lower than it has been for eight years is still under consideration for such gigs. And what’s remarkable is that he has apparently turned them down, to stay at Derby.
So does this mean he’s a good manager? Do the people on high at both those clubs know something we don’t? Have they spoken to some people who have told them none of this is McClaren’s fault? Is this just a badly-timed blip?
Or are both clubs basket cases at which nobody knows what the hell they’re doing? Is McClaren a charlatan who occasionally got lucky, without even staying up all night to do so? Does he not know one end of a successful season from another? Should he never be trusted with any sort of managerial responsibility again?
Usually, one would say ‘the truth lies somewhere in the middle’, but there hasn’t really been a great deal of middle for McClaren. His career has generally been divided into good and the terrible, a chaotic maelstrom of confusion that’s frankly no use to anyone.
Perhaps though, for the rest of us, this is a good thing. It won’t do to be certain all the time. Everyone needs a little confusion occasionally. So thank you Steve McClaren; nobody can be really sure if you’re any good. Just like not knowing, that’s basically OK.
Nick Miller

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