JUST AS the Queen must believe the whole world beyond the Buck House gates smells of fresh paint so must Steve McClaren have mounting empirical evidence that the background noise to everyday life is jeering, booing and unprovoked vitriolic comments.
The hapless England boss has got off to the worst ever start of any England manager, has seen his public image crash and burn, has alienated the supporters and has been comprehensively savaged by the entire spectrum of the press. Even mild mannered but extremely influential Henry Winter of the Telegraph has put the boot in. Mac must yearn for his cosy golden age of relative popularity, tangible success and only sporadically dodging flying Red Books and brickbats from an adoring Boro public.
Steve McClaren has been found out with England. His weaknesses have been exposed in the unforgiving spotlight that comes with the job, his uncomfortable media presence and naive attempts at self-defensive spin ruthlessly ripped apart, his tactics put under intense scrutiny and found wanting and his clumbsy man-management skills found wanting. In an unforgiving arena where every mistake can be fatal Steve McClaren has already made far too many.
Many Boro fans will have wanted McClaren to fail with England because of personal animosity stored up from years of brain numbing ultra-cautious scientific professionalism and the bitter residue from a string of foot-in-mouth public pronouncements; many will have wanted him to succeed, grateful for Cardiff and Eindhoven even if they never warmed to him and because as England fans that would mean by definition success for the national team.
But both groups knew that his unendearing, defensive and cold persona made him vulnerable to the vicious national press, that his too-clever-by-half attempts at spin would backfire and that his cloak of negativity would produce an industrious and utilitarian brand of football that would provoke an angry backlash from a short-sighted media and delusional public with overly inflated expectations of international success not borne out by history.
The appointment was a strange one. His strength is coaching – look at those badges, see that clipboard – but perversely that is the element of management required least at international level. The players he deals with are meticulously coached day in, day out by Fergie, Jose and Rafa and there is little he can do in his briefs spells to overwrite their tactical templates.
What are needed far more than indidually tailored tactics DVDs and opta printouts
anything are the man-management and motivational skills to get players who are already highly coached to unite around a vision, work to a game plan they understand and believe in and to fight with a burning passion. While they would concede he was a good coach, these are the very area most Boro fans would argue he fell down on.
McClaren has been a dead man walking from day one. He was appointed in a panic after the cack-handed public courting of Big Phil Scolari collapsed into farce, second choice Steve selected after his high profile gung-ho gambles in twice putting four up front paid off and Boro reached the UEFA Cup final. But those matches should never have been so emphatically tilted against Boro and anyone who deduced from the last gasp drama that McClaren was a master tactician needs their bumps felt. Boro got lucky and McClaren more so.
He was tainted by association with the old regime too. It is hard to believe that there may be people – some of them on the FA Council – who believed that Sven was an all powerful force within Team England and that McClaren was an enlightened dissident focus of positive play that only needed to be liberated from the Swede’s tyranical yoke for a new age to dawn. In fact McClaren was deeply enmeshed in the Sven mindset of management manuals and stifling systems. You only had to look at Boro to see what his own philosophy was. The Northern Ireland match, the Trinadad and Tobago match, the Croatia match, the Israel match…. that’s McClaren’s Boro replicated on the international stage, a seamless link.
And he alienated the press before he even took over. At Boro he devised a press strategy where he would cultivate his favourites and feed them juicy lines away from the rest of the pack. It rankled and left scores to be settled but ultimately had negligible effect on his world as, after all, it was only little Boro and the sports editors on the nationals couldn’t give a monkeys. Adopting the same strategy as England boss though has proved very damaging indeed with the excluded sharpening their knives long before he officially became the boss. That, some banal and uninspiring early press conferences and the dangerous decision to hand headline grabbing David Beckham out to dry meant the dye was cast.
It was inevitable that the accumulated bad feeling would surface with the first defeat. Croatia was the signal for hostile sniping to begin and Israel prompted the heavy artilliary to pen up. And when even a rehabilitated former victim like Graham Taylor weighs in you are deep in trouble.
Now it is only a question of time and which root vegetable the tabloids go for.