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Saturday, Nov. 24, 2007

PREMIER REPORT

F.A.'s hiring of McClaren was doomed from the start


LONDON — There have been three remarkable performances by Steve McClaren in the past week compared with none by England.

Christopher Davies

The first came when the former England head coach admitted he was so nervous he locked himself in the toilet rather than watch the last 10 minutes of Israel-Russia when the home side's 2-1 win gave McClaren and his team a Euro 2008 lifeline.

The second was at a rain-soaked Wembley when he stood on the sidelines under an umbrella drinking coffee as England lost 3-2 to Croatia, their European hopes and his future down the drain.

Finally, at Thursday's news conference after his inevitable sacking, McClaren, the sultan of spin, scored more own-goals than England's opponents had put past his side. It was a mercy sacking and one of the few things the Football Association managed to get right.

Terry Venables, McClaren's assistant (the pair became more distant with every game) was also shown the door.

It took the F.A. 90 days to decide McClaren — Sven Lite — should be Sven-Goran Eriksson's successor but only 90 minutes for the F.A. board to dismiss him. The payoff of £2.5 million proving again that in football nothing succeeds like failure.

The bad news is that the same men who appointed the hapless McClaren to a position just about everyone outside the F.A. knew was too big for his talent will choose his successor. Those men include Geoff Thompson, the lame duck chairman of the F.A. who inadvertently before the game against Croatia referred to Steve McClaren as Steve McQueen, though there was no great escape for England.

For what we are about to receive.

McClaren will be remembered as a failure who went to the toilet rather than watch the last 10 minutes of a game, and who stood under a brolly in the pouring rain at Wembley, the inescapable feeling that the image-conscious former national coach didn't want to get his hair wet.

And yes I am serious.

His farewell news conference was a master class in evasiveness (a stronger word springs to mind).

England fans had paid thousands of pounds following the national team around Europe for ultimate failure and they were treated with utter contempt by a man who will walk away with a healthy settlement.

"Why do we have the strongest domestic league but a poor national team?

"That's not an issue for today . . . "

"What went wrong?

That's not for today . . . "

"Why did you change the formation against Croatia home and away?"

"That's not for today . . . "

It has immediately become a catchphrase but at least McClaren isn't for tomorrow.

They were questions for today because England supporters were asking them.

A couple of other gems.

"I think I'm a better coach now than I was 18 months ago . . . "

So how bad was he then?

"I want to get back into football, I'm not one to lie on a beach . . . "

Hardly the best thing to say for a man soon to leave for Barbados on holiday.

There was one aspect, however, where McClaren had his wish.

"I said I wanted to be judged on results . . . "

He has and the coach thrown in the deep waters of international football was out of his depth. The judgment was damning.

In the do-or-die game against Croatia he chose rookie goalkeeper Scott Carson of Aston Villa instead of Tottenham's Paul Robinson for his competitive debut — a day after saying it would be "a night for experience."

Carson made an early basic error when he allowed Niko Kranjcar's shot to slip through his hands and into the net.

It is a nightmare moment that will be a tattoo on Carson's career, whatever he achieves he will be remembered for the Wembley wobble.

There were other selection and tactical errors as McClaren was outthought and outwitted by Croatia's impressive young coach Slaven Bilic, the former West Ham and Everton defender.

A drenched umbrella-less Bilic stood meters from the dry McClaren urging his team to a famous victory.

Never mind the rain, feel the emotions.

England was hopeless and just about everything-less. With the exception of Peter Crouch and substitute David Beckham no other England players reached anything like the standard expected.

Why?

Inevitably the coach gets the blame just as he gets the credit when things go well.

It is difficult to believe that the vilified Eriksson would not have once again steered England to the finals with minimum fuss. This was not the toughest of qualifying groups.

Players like to know their jobs, what they should do, they like to be familiar with tactics and formation yet under McClaren, who used 38 players in the 12 qualification games, there were too many changes too often.

* * * * *

SO WHO will succeed Steve McClaren and have the task of picking up the pieces from a calamitous European campaign and winning back the confidence of a nation fed up by under-achievement?

Aston Villa's Martin O'Neill and former Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho are the early favorites, though the Portuguese was reported to have ruled himself out of the reckoning.

A personal choice would be Guus Hiddink, who led Russia to Euro 2008 at England's expense.

England would have to wait until next summer for the Dutchman but it would be worth it.

Christopher Davies was a longtime soccer correspondent for the London Daily Telegraph.


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