x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

McClaren spirits are lifted again

As Twente prepare to face Steaua Bucharest in the Europa League, the tie provides a flashback to a high point for the ex-England manager.

FC Twente head coach Steve McClaren, centre, enjoys managing small clubs with plenty of promise.
FC Twente head coach Steve McClaren, centre, enjoys managing small clubs with plenty of promise.

It has been 23 months since Steve McClaren's departure as the England manager; an exit hastened by their failure to qualify for the European Championship in 2008. To "let down the nation" hurt the Yorkshireman, who was assistant to Sven-Goran Eriksson before taking the top job after the 2006 World Cup. He made mistakes, none more so than leaving out David Beckham from his first squad.

But McClaren has since showed he does not want his career defined by that defeat at home to Croatia which meant England missed out on the finals of a major tournament for the first time since 1994. "Someone says you are not a manager until you get sacked. That's what I believed and moved on," he said. Indeed, McClaren seems to have moved on and his exploits at FC Twente - a Dutch club, founded in 1965, who are four years younger than him - show why he was regarded the brightest English manager just three years ago.

McClaren has spoken of his love to build a club before, but he felt the Dutch side create similarities to his time at Middlesbrough. Unfashionable maybe, but they are a small club with big ambitions. As Twente prepare to face Steaua Bucharest in the Europa League tonight, the tie provides a flashback to a high point for McClaren. Boro were 2-0 down in their Uefa Cup semi-final second-leg home meeting with Steaua in 2006 when Massimo Maccarone's last-minute header sealed a 4-3 aggregate win.

Although they lost to Sevilla in their first European final, it was a landmark moment. With League Cup success - the club's first major trophy - in 2004, McClaren had made an impression on his own following his spell as assistant to Sir Alex Ferguson which included the Treble triumph in 1999. He has made a similar impact at Twente since taking over in May last year. A second-place league finish, above Ajax and PSV Eindhoven, last season was only soured by defeat in the Dutch Cup final to Heerenveen on penalties.

"It was a terrific season; the most enjoyable I've had in football," he told the BBC. McClaren has revelled in his new surroundings and is indebted to another former England manager for his part in the recovery process. When he attended the recent memorial service for Sir Bobby Robson in County Durham, he lined up with Graham Taylor, Terry Venables and Eriksson. A trio of former national team managers unable to replicate the club success they had pre-England. Robson did, at PSV Eindhoven, Porto and Barcelona.

When Robson died in July from cancer, McClaren lost an inspiration and someone who encouraged him take up the Twente offer. "Sir Bobby was a big influence for me. He told me, 'The people are great, the football is great, you will learn so much'. Hopefully I have a good career ahead of me in football. Every job is part of that journey. England was part of that. Generally I have been successful at what I do."

McClaren has started to show that again this season. Twente are unbeaten in 13 games with only an exit in the Champions League qualifiers on away goals to Sporting Lisbon a blemish during that run. McClaren's star is shining again and, amid interest in his services, Twente are keen to extend his contract which ends next summer. The temptation of a bigger club or a return to prove himself on home soil may be hard to resist, but McClaren said: "You cannot plan a career in football because you don't know what will happen next. I am enjoying this experience and there is more to come."

akhan@thenational.ae