The Panenka

A blog dedicated to European Football, World Soccer and the Road to Russia 2018

England’s Excuses Part Four: An English Manager

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After the so called failure of the experiment in appointing an foreign coach to the England manager post, The FA went full circle and did their best to interview solely British and particularly English candidates. After smarting from the soap opera that was Sven-Goran Eriksson’s reign they opted for the familiar after their first choice option said no.

 The Panenka looks at the role of the worst England boss since Graham Taylor as an excuse for England’s failings on the international scene, we are of course talking about Steve McClaren.

On wet and dreary Wednesday night at Wembley England failed to qualify for Euro 2008 after losing to Croatia. England went 2-0 down when Scott Carson, in for Paul Robinson, fumbled Nico Kranjcar’s shot into the net and then Ivica Olic slipped in a second. Frank Lampard pulled one back from the spot after Jermaine Defoe was fouled, before David Beckham, winning a 99th cap, set up Peter Crouch to level it.

When Mladen Petric fired in from 25 yards to make it 3-2 and break England’s hearts, Steve McClaren’s fate was sealed, within that his place in history labeled with a big fat F for failure. The FA’s insistence on an English coach had backfired, or at least their choice had been the wrong one.

The consequences, it seemed, would be to peg back the future of the national team by an unaccountable number of years. Furthermore, the generation of players, some brilliant, would be essentially lost, while some would lose their last chance at representing their country at a major tournament.

After The FA decided to part ways with Sven-Goran Eriksson England’s football big-wigs compiled a shortlist of Steve McClaren, Sam Allardyce, Alan Curbishley, Martin O’Neill and Luiz Felipe Scolari. The FA actually offered the role to the latter, despite overwhelming pressure to appoint an Englishman, but had their advances turned down as the Brazilian felt the position would carry such baggage that he did not want such a major inclusion into his life.

So, ‘Second Choice Steve” it was, who officially took hold of the reigns in August 2006. First thing on the agenda was to appoint a successor to the assistant manager role he had been fulfilling for the previous two years. The former Middlesbrough manager chose ex-England coach Terry Venebles, a popular choice given his expertise with the England where he guided the Three Lions to the semi-finals of Euro 1996.

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McClaren (left) with Assistant Manger Terry Venebles (right).

Secondly, McClaren publicly dropped David Beckham, a bemusing decision by a largely unqualified and widely disregarded coach, meaning he had to appoint a new captain. His options for captain fell to a choice between two players, a 50/50 which McClaren ultimately got wrong. Instead of choosing the universally liked Rio Ferdinand of Manchester United, McClaren went for the adulterous closet racist John Terry of Chelsea. As if dropping national treasure David Beckham wasn’t enough he also dropped Sol Campbell and David James too. The latter being probably the best goalkeeper from a bad bunch and pretty shoddy selection, but a decision that would come back to bite him.

The new England boss perhaps felt that the odds were already against him. Even before he started dropping established and revered players he appointed public relations guru Max Clifford, the man who represented such reputable names such as Freddie Star, Gillian McKeith, Paul Burrel and Jade Goody.

Interestingly, Max Clifford had also represented Rebecca Loos during her tabloid revelations that she had an affair with David Beckham during his time with Real Madrid. These were accusations that Goldenballs denied and ones that caused a severe toll on an already significantly difficult personal life for one of the biggest celebrities in the world. Furthermore, I don’t expect that went down too well in the dressing room, especially after McClaren had dropped Beckham upon taking the England post before going on to recall him in March 2007.

England opened qualification with two wins from the first two games with conquests of footballing powerhouses Andorra and Macedonia in a group that also contained Estonia, Israel, Russia and Croatia. In the following games however, England hit a poor run of form and the McClaren era hit the rocks.

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A devastated Paul Robinson.

England drew 0-0 at home to Macedonia and then three days later they lost 2-0 in Zagreb. While drawing at home to lowly Macedonia might seem pretty unforgivable it was the Croatia defeat that really caught the headlines in a week to forget. Firstly, McClaren deployed a 3-5-2-wingback formation to a great deal of bemusement and then, with England 1-0 down, a Gary Neville back pass bobbled over Paul Robinson’s foot to cruelly dribble into the net as England lost 2-0. It was

The Guardian summarizes the feeling in the country best:

“After all the debate over the shape England ought to adopt, Croatia decreed that it would be a severely dented one. The damage is severe as well for Steve McClaren, whose strategy was supposed to help the team get forward. His players merely moved mechanically and if there is any consolation for the goalkeeper Paul Robinson, who missed his kick and let a Gary Neville backpass roll into his net, it is that England, already a goal behind, were unlikely to score in any case.

“McClaren, on his fifth match in charge, already has on his record a defeat that will trail him through many fixtures to come. It is sure to be there, mentioned aloud or hovering unspoken over every occasion. He knew the job could be like that, but he has to tremble early. At the minimum Group E is now converted into a challenge where, before Saturday’s draw with Macedonia, it had promised to be a sinecure.

“Everything is in doubt, with even the manager’s future already overcast. It took Sven-Goran Eriksson four years before humiliation had to be endured in Northern Ireland, his sole defeat in a qualifier. As if the grilling over tactics were not sufficient, McClaren must face questioning of his worth as a motivator, especially since he had made so much beforehand of character and the requirement for an “English performance”. The latter term, with its macho overtones, is overblown at the best of times and utterly absurd in the wake of a night such as this.”

In March 2007 two more disappointing qualifiers followed. Firstly England drew another blank in a 0-0 draw away in Israel bringing England number of goals scored in their last three to a whopping zero but, despite winning 3-0 in Andorra four days later, England were roundly booed by the travelling support.

After such a run of terrible results the cracks really began to show. McClaren showed the textbook telltale sign of a coach losing the plot when he walked out of Andorra’s post-match press conference after only two minutes of questions, saying, “Gentlemen, if you want to write whatever you want to write, you can write it because that is all I am going to say. Thank you.”

England’s McClaren attempted to silence the critics with the recall of living legend David Beckham in May 2007 and appeared to be pulling off a comeback when a run of four more 3-0 victories on the bounce against Estonia twice, Israel and Russia put England back in contention for automatic qualification. The charge however, was abruptly halted as the Three Lions went down 2-1 to Russia in Moscow. All was not lost tough, the result meant that qualification would be secured if they avoid defeat in their final group game with Croatia at Wembley.

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A 2-1 defeat inMoscow left The Three Lions with work still to do.

The Croats had already secured qualification via top sport in the group so an England victory and Euro 2008 qualification at the expense of Russia, who simultaneously clashed with Andorra, looked probable. McClaren stepped onto the hallowed Wembley turf during the warm ups beneath heavy rain which made the pitch as treacherous as England’s future.

If the weather was any indication, it was just the way things went for England that night. Only 8 minutes in Kranjcar unleashed a 30-yard shot that bounced in front of Carson who could only parry the ball into the net. As England’s world stood on the brink of collapse, calamitous defending gifted Croatia a second but, credit to McClaren, he changed personnel and the shape, England clawed themselves back into the game to make it 2-2. Alas, the Three Lions looked determined to gift Croatia another goal, which they did, as Mladen Petric drilled a shot into Carson’s bottom corner with 13 minutes to play to bring the world crashing down on Wembley.

The 3-2 home defeat marked a return of English football to the doldrums; it was the first time England had not qualified for a major tournament in 14 years and the first time England had not qualified for the European Championships in 24 years. Additionally, a future generation of players past the likes of the dropped David Beckham and Sol Campbell looked nonexistent.

Perhaps most telling in the Croatia defeat in McClaren’s managing style was the decision to play Scott Carson in goal, decision being a loose term for backed into a corner caused by pure bloody mindedness and incompetence. Months previously the former Middlesbrough boss had exiled David James to the bench citing a ‘New direction’ and unceremoniously dropped Paul Robinson for his performance against Croatia in the away fixture, meaning there was really no one left to play between the sticks.

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Scott Carson’s mistake put left England with an uphill battle at Wembley in November, 2007.

In the furor of the anger and disappointment, plastered across the back pages of newspapers, were pictures of McClaren, forlorn on the touchline holding an umbrella and a cup of coffee, sheltering himself from the tempest his inadequacy had conjured. The Daily Mail labeled him: “The Wally With The Brolly,” a heartless back page splash which poor McClaren will undoubtedly never recover from.

While the Daily Mail perfectly summarized McClaren’s 16-month spell with the cutting headline the following day, The FA held an emergency meeting in Soho Square to remove the England boss from his post. Reports say McClaren refused to resign but the FA board agreed the termination of his contract unanimously.

The defeat and England’s absence from Euro 2008 has much wider implications than simply missing the tournament. England expects has been no more. Those famous words penned by Lord Nelson in the preparations for the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805 have not been as relevant as the once were in years past.

When England headed into both Euro 2012 and World Cup 2014 the expectation had all but disappeared. Even the notorious tabloid press has ignored the Three Lions as something not worth getting stuck into or a beast too difficult to build up before eventually knocking down.

The disappointment also brought the bone shaking realization that the English game was, and possibly still is, in dire straits. A domestic division dominated by overseas imports and foreign coaches may be constantly pushing the ceiling on its ever expanding potential in lining the pockets of The FA and The Premier League through turning itself into a license to print money, the national team has stagnated and even gone backwards since the Premier division really began to take off in the late 1990s.

While England were so afraid of losing it’s identity though appointing a foreign manger in 2001, it seems that by 2007 and McClaren’s sacking the whole Football Association and general public had completely forgotten exactly what it was they were so concerned about losing in the first place. In truth, England haven’t found themselves since.

Read More

England’s Excuses Part One: The Heat

England’s Excuses Part Two: “That” Red Card

England’s Excuses Part Three: A Foreign Manager

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