Four words that should terrify all right-thinking football fans: Steve McClaren, England manager.
Right now, the whole idea sounds faintly ridiculous. Steve McClaren? In charge of England? But if Sven-Goran Eriksson’s side bomb in next year’s World Cup – and, let’s be honest, with Mr Motivator in charge it’s a fair bet – McClaren (above) is next in line. The bookies make him an even-money favourite, a furlong or two ahead of Alan Curbishley at 7-2, Martin O’Neill at 6-1 and Sam Allardyce and Stuart Pearce at 12-1.
Why? Nothing McClaren has achieved in his managerial career suggests he’s good enough. Not his results, which have been below par (75 wins from 198 matches). Not his signings – Massimo Maccarone (£8.15m), Michael Ricketts (£3.5m), Jonathan Greening (£2m), Mark Wilson (£1.5m) et al. And certainly not his brand of defensive football, which makes Sven’s England look like Brazil 1970 reincarnated.
McClaren’s managerial record at Boro is particularly sobering. Despite spending over £50m in four years, the club finished 12th in 2002, 11th in 2003 and 2004 and seventh in 2005. During that period, Curbishley produced near-identical league positions at Charlton – but without the help of a Steve Gibson-sized sugar daddy.
The signings of Greening and Wilson, in particular, speak volumes for McClaren’s judgement: he worked with the pair every day in training while Sir Alex Ferguson’s No2 at Manchester United, yet still blew £3.5m with the nonchalance of a city trader at a low-grade lapdancing club. Neither impressed at Boro and both were soon shipped out.
So why is he favourite to take over from Sven? Partly it’s due to him being Eriksson’s No2, and partly it’s down to the paucity of decent competition. But if being assistant manager counted for anything, Bryan Robson would have replaced Terry Venables after Euro 96, and Lawrie McMenemy or Phil ‘Yes boss!’ Neal would have taken the reins after Graham Taylor was sacked.
All right-thinking football fans would rightly shudder at such prospects. The notion of McClaren taking over should provoke a similar reaction.