Steve McClaren, the new head coach of Wolfsburg, would have been forgiven a wry smile on being told of the headlines in English newspapers last Monday was: "The next manager of England should be English, say the FA". Had he read them, he would have glimpsed his own name among the projected candidates. However, his mind was too busy with the toughest of all debuts. He makes his Bundesliga bow at Bayern Munich tonight, in the opening match of the German league season.
Once upon a time, McClaren would have expected to be the manager of England at the 2010 World Cup. That was the assumption when, in 2006, he was named as the successor to the soon-to-depart Sven-Goran Eriksson. McClaren had been Eriksson's part-time side-kick, while also working at Middlesbrough, where he guided the club to a Uefa Cup final four years ago. Then he took over the England side, a position so scrutinised in the British media and so easily turned into the role of national scapegoat.
McClaren entered it with several disadvantages. He was not the first choice. He was associated with a regime - Eriksson's - that had been derided during the 2006 World Cup, where England lost in the quarter-finals. McClaren's first task was to negotiate a way through a qualifying pool for Euro 2008 that included Croatia and Russia. He failed, the lasting image of his reign standing under an umbrella at Wembley as rain fell and England lost at home to the Croatians and, with that defeat, failed to reach a major tournament for the first time in 14 years. "The Wally With The Brolly", as he was called, was dismissed.
Leaving Britain to take over at Twente, in his second season, 2009/10, he made history with a Dutch league title. After weighing up several offers over the summer, he chose Wolfsburg, who won the Bundesliga 15 months ago. His pre-season has been spent in fraught negotiations, to try and keep Edin Dzeko, the Bosnian striker, and to try to sign Diego, the Juventus playmaker. He would have liked reinforcements earlier, knowing that the fixture-list ensured he would start his Bundesliga adventure at the deep end. firstname.lastname@example.org