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Sunday, May 7, 2006


Bungling F.A. suits have gone for second best in McClaren

After countless interviews, cloak-and-dagger meetings, secret talks and public humiliation for the Football Association after being turned down by Portugal's Luiz Felipe Scolari, Steve McClaren was named the next England head coach on Thursday -- 99 days after Sven-Goran Eriksson announced he was leaving this summer.

Christopher Davies

Never has the most important appointment in English football been greeted with such indifference or apathy. We shrugged our collective shoulders, shook our heads and wondered for the 100th time if it was possible for the F.A. to have handled the process of finding Eriksson's successor even worse than it did.

All of which is not McClaren's fault of course, and no one blames him for accepting the job. No one blames him for the dearth of outstanding English coaches either. It is quite simply that finding those who believe he is the right man for the post is only marginally less difficult than discovering someone who thinks the F.A. did a good job in appointing him. Cruel as it sounds, McClaren is not so much the right man but the only man, the ultimate compromise.

McClaren knows, the F.A. knows (but did not admit) he was not first choice. Scolari was, but when the F.A. tried to get a man with a World Cup win on his resume for half of the £5 million a year it is paying Eriksson, the man who led Brazil to glory in 2002 was not best pleased. Thanks but no thanks. At that level it is a golden rule you never offer anyone a job until you know he has accepted it -- big mistake with Big Phil, big embarrassment for the F.A.

However, Brian Barwick, chief executive of the F.A., denied Scolari had been offered the job, which contradicted what the Brazilan had claimed.

Barwick's journey to see Scolari for the third time was merely "part of the process" which went to extra-time and a penalty shootout.

"I saw Phil Scolari three times, and the reality is there were still certain elements in his possible involvement with us. He was never offered the job. We had four or five major candidates including Sam Allardyce, Martin O'Neill and Alan Curbishley. The process ended today (Thursday) when Steve was offered the job."

Ninety nine days to find the new man and 99 minutes for McClaren to say "yes."

"He (McClaren) has shown himself to be a top-class coach for club and country and did two fantastic interviews," said Barwick, which begged the question why it took the F.A. three months to appoint him. It was "the process," said Barwick.

"It is seen by many to be a tortuous process," he continued with no dissenting voices. "We tried to recruit a senior person in a major industry, and it took us nine weeks. In any other industry that would not remotely be an issue. We had a job to do, and if the process was tedious, we were trying to get to where we are today."

So after all the intrigue and false alarms and 99 days after Eriksson announced he was to step down this summer, Barwick unveiled the new England manager . . . Eriksson's coach or Son Of Sven as he is known.

As anticlimaxes go, it was up there with the best. "He was my choice and the unanimous choice of the F.A. board," said Barwick, and we looked to see if his nose was growing.

Not one of the nine football correspondents of national newspapers asked by the BBC who they wanted to succeed Eriksson said McClaren, but on Thursday they were at Soho Square to cover the new England head coach's press conference as the man they did not want was unveiled.

Eriksson arrived having won titles and cups in Sweden, Portugal and Italy. As Sir Alex Ferguson's assistant McClaren was part of the coaching team when Manchester United won, among other things, the 1999 Champions League, but as a manager McClaren has led Middlesbrough to the League Cup in 2004. And that's it.

In the Premiership 'Boro has finished 12th, 11th, 11th, and seventh, 12th or 13th this season.

Next Wednesday 'Boro meets Sevilla in the UEFA Cup final, yet in the knockout stages it lost all three away ties to Roma, FC Basel and Steaua Bucharest. It also needed a replay to beat non-league Nuneaton in the F.A. Cup. Away results like that in the Euro 2008 qualifying campaign will see England staying at home for the finals in two years time.

Two weeks ago McClaren enlisted the help of spin doctor supreme Max Clifford to help reveal the skeleton in his cupboard, an affair with a secretary at Middlesbrough while he was having a trial separation from his wife -- the pair are together again now. Clifford ensured The Sun gave McClaren an easy ride when he "told all" -- the difference between a newspaper accusing a high-profile personality of an indiscretion and the "offender" admitting it -- or getting his retaliation in first.

It is also understood McClaren, who takes up his four-year post on Aug. 1, has undergone media training and been advised to lose weight while also getting his teeth fixed.

His debut as England head coach again smacked of spin doctor involvement, which was to be expected, but there was an obvious element of "this is what you should say Steve." The job was "an opportunity I could not refuse," said McClaren. "I may be viewed by you (the media) as a second choice. For me this is not an issue . . . I do not see it as first or second choice . . . I am the choice, and I am the new England coach.

"There were some big candidates in the process, I was proud to be part of it. I'm just delighted to be the choice of the F.A. I knew the process from the beginning, and I was comfortable with that, it didn't affect me with 'Boro. The outcome was the most important thing which is I am probably the proudest man in England today.

"I have the experience, I have the knowledge and I like a challenge.

We are capable of winning a major tournament, be it Germany or 2008. I'm here to win games and hope to win things with England. If I do that my popularity will rise, but that's not an issue with me."

Christopher Davies covers Arsenal, Chelsea and the Republic of Ireland for the London Daily Telegraph.

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