Steve McClaren Excels at Derby

December 6, 2013 in Championship by Louis Baxter

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I don’t think it would be too controversial to say there’s not a lot of love lost for Steve McClaren in England. He probably has to go down as the worst England Manager in the Modern Era, and in that ill-advised moment of brashness one day, when he thought saying ‘ Judge me on the results’ was a good idea, he created the noose with which he was hanged when England failed to qualify for Euro 2008 under his leadership. After that McClaren, like those who are defined by failures for the national team often do, was essentially banished from the country, deemed so thoroughly unemployable by English clubs that he spent four years working in the Dutch and German leagues.

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Without too much coverage in England, McClaren won the Erevidisie with FC Twente, the first time the club had ever won it’s domestic title. This would make him the only English manager to win a European domestic title in any country since Bobby Robson with Porto in 1996, something that doesn’t get too much coverage either. McClaren made his return to England, with subtle complaints to the media that no Premier League clubs showed any interest in him, with Nottingham Forest in the 11/12 Championship season only to get sacked after mere months, leaving Forest close to the relegation zone and in complete disarray. In McClaren’s defence, Forest sacked two more managers that season before going crawling back to previously sacked Scottish psychopath/Championship master Billy Davies, who has turned them into a team competing for the play-offs every season.

That really did seem like it for Steve McClaren on these shores. He had to wait for 4 years before he was deemed non-toxic enough to get a chance with another English club, and once he finally did he failed dramatically and immediately. His status as national punchline was restored, and it would be difficult for any club to hire him without there being some kind of fan revolt, at least above the level of League One. Enter Derby County. Derby, who once stood tall in English football when managed by Brian Clough back in the day, have had a very lean decade indeed. Their only year in the top flight was when the aforementioned Billy Davies somehow got a lower-Championship Derby squad promoted through the play-offs, and Derby, always a financially strapped club these days, couldn’t afford to dramatically strengthen. They were going to go back down that was certain, but in a panic, the chairman sacked Davies and brought in Paul Jewell, who went down without winning a game, setting a near unbeatable Premier League record points low in the process. His dreadful tenure, statistically one of the worst in football history, continued into the Championship and when he was eventually sacked. Derby were staring relegation in the face.

Soccer - Barclays Premier League - Bolton Wanderers v Derby County - Reebok Stadium

They brought in Nigel Clough, son of the legendary Brian which no doubt had some part in his hiring, who steered them away from the relegation zone and into mid-table. And stayed there. Derby seemed reluctant to part ways with Clough, even when it was fairly clear that Championship mid-table was about his ceiling, and kept him for 4 years. It was perhaps a season too long after it was clear that Clough didn’t have it in him to mount a promotion challenge, even if he was given all the time in the world. They eventually sacked him early this season, and brought in McClaren, who of course began his managerial career as assistant to Derby’s Jim Smith in the 90′s and saw them get promoted and stay in the Premier League for 3 seasons before he was poached by Sir Alex Ferguson.

McClaren’s sentimental connection with Derby was perhaps going to give him more leeway at that club than any other, and while there was some grumbling at his appointment, it quickly dissipated as Derby went on an impressive run. In McClaren’s brief reign so far, Derby have won six games out of eight, including away wins at the big boys like Watford and Wigan.  Their only loss has come away at promotion challengers and richest club in the league QPR, and he has seen his club rise from 16th to 4th in two months. And with various title challengers all looking vulnerable (Burnley appear to have completely fell to pieces, whilst Leicester and QPR lose here and there), there’s nothing to say McClaren can’t chase the Championship title, something that is very plausible if they can keep anything close to their current form going.

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It is early days, but McClaren has seemed to have found that Midas touch that deserted him at Forest and of course with England, but that title at FC Twente shows there is a manager in here somewhere, and Derby may reap their rewards for looking past his media image and giving him a chance based on his abilities.

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