On 1st August, 2006, Steve McClaren replaced Sven-Goran Eriksson as England manager. The move was welcomed by some quarters who wanted an English manager back at the helm of the national team. Only a few months into his new job, however, McClaren is already being dubbed Sven Mark II.
When the English FA announced on 23rd January, 2006, that Sven would be leaving as England manager I could not help but smile. In my opinion Sven was not the man to bring silverware to the national team. People pointed out that his competitive record for England was second to none (which you can not argue with), but his tactics seemed negative and he struggled with substitutions to help change a match.
Going into the quarter-final match against Brazil in the 2002 World Cup, I thought to myself "if we get a result against Brazil then we could lift the trophy for the first time since 1966". I believed this due to the soft competition that was left in the tournament after the other big boys (France, Argentina, Portugal etc) had been sent packing. England were leading 1-0 at half time courtesy of a Michael Owen goal, which led to a sense of optimism. Early in the second half goals from Rivaldo and Ronaldinho put the Brazilians in the lead. In the 57th minute Ronaldinho was sent off but Sven did nothing to change his tactics to take the game to Brazil.
The Brazil match was not the last time the Swede was criticised for his tactics and substitutions. Again Eriksson was criticized for England's overly defensive performances in their first-round loss to France and also their quarter-final elimination by hosts Portugal during Euro 2004. When the results mattered, the Swede seemed to mishandle the tactics.
Ericsson’s tactics also came under scrutiny after England’s 1-0 defeat at the hands of Northern Ireland. Although it was his first defeat in any World Cup or European Championship qualifiers, both fans and BBC commentators criticised his lack of charisma and tactical awareness. A good example of this was his choice for defensive midfielder as he chose David Beckham! It seemed to me that he lacked passion and this seemed to rub off on his players, which was in stark contrast to the fired-up and passionate Irish.
Going into the 2006 World Cup in Germany, as usual the British media gave the public a misguided sense of optimism. Yes, England did have a good squad of players, but they also had a very inept management team at the helm. I was only one of a handful of people who could not see England passing the quarter-final stages of the World Cup. I told numerous people that as long as we had Sven at the helm we would not progress further then we had done in previous competitions.
Even though England were unbeaten after the group stage of the tournament, with wins against Paraguay and Trinidad & Tobago, followed by a draw against Sweden. I considered the manner of the results to be far from satisfactory and this was evident in the match against Sweden. I was shocked to see England squander a 1-0 lead and almost lose towards the end.
In the second round the nation had to endure a lacklustre performance against Ecuador and we had to rely on a David Beckham trademark free kick to see us through. Not surprising that before the match against Portugal I put a bet on our rivals to qualify for the semi-finals. England (not surprisingly) were defeated 3-1 on penalties with the score 0-0 after extra time. During the match the enigma of class that is Wayne Rooney was sent off for a temper tantrum, which did not help the nation's cause, and the alleged darling of English football, David Beckham, went off through injury.
The English media, as well as the fans, might have wanted an English manager to replace Sven, but this pressure on the FA is going to turn round and bite them in time. The excellent Guus Hiddink was available after leaving PSV and Australia and I was really gutted when the FA did not go for him. I do not blame him for turning down an interview as the FA wanted to place him on a short list alongside Alan Curbishley, Steve McClaren and Sam Allardyce!
‘Big Phil’ Scolari was also available (before he signed a two-year contract extension) and he has a proven track record after winning the World Cup with Brazil and taking Portugal to the final of Euro 2004 and also the semi-final of the 2006 World Cup. Scolari sensibly turned down the job: why would you want it when the media try and influence your tactics and squad?
It also seems to me to be ludicrous that the powers that be overlooked Martin O’Neil. You only have to look at how he has resuscitated Aston Villa this season to see the quality that he oozes.
When three quality "not English" managers were available, it seems bizarre that the FA bowed to media pressure and selected an Englishman, especially the inept Steve McClaren. Already McClaren has proved to be as disastrous as I feared. Yes, he did have the guts to drop the "untouchable" David Beckham, but apart from that he still has a "Sven-ness" about his tactics and judgement.
For some reason he is sticking with his Boro prodigy (Stuart Downing) on the left flank, an average Premiership player not cut-out for international football. Even worse he has still not learnt from Sven’s mistake that Steven Gerard and Frank Lampard cannot play together in the same midfield.
Lampard is overrated and if you took his goals away he would look average (and this was clear in the 2006 World Cup). Gerrard puts Lampard to shame in his all-round play and ability, yet McClaren (trying to solve Sven’s problem) has pushed Gerrard out wide in order to accommodate both players! When will he learn that it simply does not work and that Lampard should be confined to the bench in order to play Gerrard in the centre?
England’s trip to Zagreb in November for a European Championship qualifying match was a disaster. People have to remember that Croatia have only lost once at home since their independence and during that time have played Brazil, Italy and Germany, who have better national teams then the English. So for McClaren to bow to media pressure and revert to an untested 3-5-2 formation was a disaster waiting to happen.
I bet his opposite number, Slaven Bilic, was smiling to himself when he saw the team sheets before the kick-off. Bilic later told journalists he was delighted the see England play 3-5-2 because England’s players, most significantly the full-backs, were not used to the formation and secondly because Croatia (historically) play 3-5-2. So if McClaren’s opposite number can see the pitfalls in the formation (for the England team), why can’t the England coaching staff?
McClaren’s judgement and arrogance was further exposed in the post-match interview when a Croatian journalist asked “Mr McClaren, did Croatia win because they are the better team, or because of your mistakes?” The new Sven replied “My mistake.” and did not even mention the fact that Croatia outplayed England and put their 3-5-2 formation to shame. This just shows the arrogance that McClaren has and it’s sad to say English fans in general.
England fans can not blame anyone but the current coach and his staff for England’s defeat in Zagreb and also past failings under Sven-Goran Eriksson. Saying that England do not have the players to win tournaments or get key results is a poor excuse. You only have to look at Northern Ireland’s and Scotland’s recent victories over Spain in Belfast and France in Glasgow respectively to see that that excuse does not work (and that is without mentioning the Greek team who won Euro 2004).
It is sad to say that Steve McClaren is Sven Mark II, but in his short time at the helm of the England national team he is proving my new name is suitable for him. Unfortunately for England fans, they will not see any silverware over the next few years with Sven’s predecessor as coach. The English FA should have ignored the public and media call for an Englishman to return to the job and gone for Hiddink, Scolari or O’Neil. But for the time being it seems that England are stuck with Sven Mark II.Powered by Sidelines