We short of knew... QPR confirm McClaren appointment - Column
Friday, 18th May 2018 15:38 by Clive Whittingham
As expected, QPR have confirmed that former England manager Steve McClaren will be the man to lead the team into 2018/19.
Steve McClaren, 57 and from York, had an unremarkable playing career spent almost exclusively in the lower leagues through the 1980s. He began at Hull City in 1979, making 178 appearances and scoring 16 goals before departing for Derby in 1985. Injuries restricted him to 25 outings in three years there, and a brief loan spell at Lincoln City preceded 61 outings for Bristol City across 1988 and 1989. He finished at Oxford United, playing 33 games before injury forced his retirement in 1992 aged 31.
It’s in coaching where he has really made his name in the game, initially as an assistant to Jim Smith at Derby as they were promoted into the Premier League in 1996 and stayed there for six seasons. McClaren was there for the first three, finishing twelfth, ninth and eighth with a team that entertained and regularly bloodied the noses of the division’s leading lights, led from the front by our very own Paulo Wanchope. He moved to Manchester United to replace Brian Kidd as Alex Ferguson’s assistant in 1999 and within six months they had won a historic Premier League, FA Cup and European Cup treble.
He stayed until 2001, winning the league in all three of his seasons at the club, before capitalising on a burgeoning reputation in the game by taking on his first managerial position at Middlesbrough – Southampton and West Ham had also made approaches. His time on Teeside started with a twelfth-placed Premier League finish and FA Cup semi-final appearance in 2001/02, and then an eleventh-placed finish the following season. In 2003/04 Boro beat Bolton in the League Cup final to list a major domestic trophy for the first time in the club’s history and qualify for a maiden European campaign.
The 2004/05 season started badly, including a 7-0 loss to Arsenal and 4-0 home defeat by Villa in which a Boro fan famously ran onto the pitch to throw his season ticket at the manager. By May, they’d rallied to fourteenth in the league, reached another FA Cup semi-final where they were beaten by West Ham, and gone on a remarkable run to the UEFA Cup final that featured two four-goal aggregate comebacks against Basel and Steau Bucharest before they lost 4-0 to Spanish side Seville in the final.
Despite reservations about a negative style of play, and the perception that the Boro job was made considerably easier by the riches of chairman Steve Gibson, McClaren was rewarded for his performance there by being made England manager in 2006 – he’d been assistant to the departing Sven Goran Eriksson throughout his tenure. McClaren lasted 16 games and 18 months, sacked after failing to qualify for Euro 2008 thanks, ultimately, to a home defeat against Croatia in the final game. It was the first time in 14 years that England had failed to qualify for a major tournament.
Redemption came in the Dutch Eredivisie at Twente. McClaren learnt to speak fluent Dutch, finished second in his first season there, 2008/09, and reached the final of the Dutch Cup where they lost to Heerenveen. Despite losing star men Eljero Elia and Marko Arnautović, Twente went one better in 2009/10 and won the league for the first time in the club’s history. It was the first time an English manager had won a top division title in any country, including the UK, since Bobby Robson at Porto in 1996.
He moved to Wolfsburg in the German Bundesliga that summer but only lasted until February, sacked for poor results.
A brief, ten-game stint in charge of Nottingham Forest followed, but he resigned amidst poor results and the usual City Ground boardroom turmoil. A second, less successful spell at Twente followed when they finished sixth in the Eredivisie. It was at this point, in summer 2013, that he came to QPR for the first time, as a coach of the first team while the actual manager The Tosser Redknapp was phoning it in. QPR were unbeaten through their first 11 league games with McClaren in situ, and kept seven clean sheets in a row from August 24 to October 19. He was well liked by the players and staff and it’s this spell that has played on the QPR board’s mind and paved the way for his return this summer.
He left to join Derby at the end of September, and ended up beaten by Rangers in the play-off final at Wembley in May despite dominating the game. Derby topped the table on three separate occasions the following season, but suffered what’s now become a traditional choke in the final months of the season, winning just two of their final 13 games to miss the play-off places altogether. McClaren was sacked that May, with speculation linking him to Newcastle cited for the downturn in form.
Appointed at St James’ Park on a bizarre three-year contract that had an option to extend it to eight, and given a place on the board, he saw his team slide into relegation trouble prior to his dismissal in March. Newcastle were, indeed, relegated at the end of his only season in charge there. He returned to Derby last season, and went on a seven-match winning run through the autumn that culminated in a 1-0 win at Loftus Road, only for the choke to hit again with one win in ten through February and March leading to a second sacking from the same club within two years.
He has been a regular pundit on Sky Sports’ coverage of the Football League, including our recent draw at Fulham, since vacating a coaching consulting role at Maccabi Tel Aviv in December.
For what it's worth, he has signed a two year contract at Loftus Road.
“I must admit that I’ve followed the club closely over the last five years, because of the three months I had here. From the outside, I’ve seen the progress, work and changes that have gone on – especially over the last two years – in streamlining the squad and getting the budget down. The board and owners deserve credit for that. The introduction of younger players has been a breath of fresh air and it’s exciting for the future. I like to play attractive, attacking football – and we’ve got young, hungry footballers here who can play that way. The priority is to win football matches – but we want to win them in a certain style.” -Schteve McClaren
““We are delighted to bring Steve to the club. He has a fantastic reputation in the game for coaching and developing players. When you look at the average age of our squad, and the exciting young talent starting to emerge, he is the perfect fit for us. We want Steve to use his expertise and experience to help our players grow. We are delighted with this appointment and, speaking with Steve, I know how excited he is to be here and how determined he is to be a success.” -Evil Les Ferdinand
Ahhhhh Shhhteve. I short of knew, after hish firsht shpell, maybe one day he would return, and it ish now I shink.
It is that pre-season and early days of 2013/14 which have fixed McClaren in the minds of the QPR board ever since, and with him out of work and available they’ve taken their opportunity to bring him in now.
Rangers were unbeaten during his time here, the first 11 games of the season, and kept seven clean sheets in a row from the end of August to the start of October (he left mid-September). It wasn’t particularly entertaining, but it was super well-coached and tremendously well organised, the training far in advance of anything QPR were doing at the time, or have done since. That’s the attraction – that level of coaching and training applied to the talented young players QPR have now, as opposed to the more haphazard “he’s the new Stan Bowles” one week “he needs to sort his defence out” the next approach from Ian Holloway. Rangers won three of the four away games they played with McClaren as coach, drawing the other at Huddersfield – they won only three times on the road in the whole of last season. The eight clean sheets kept in that run of games is also more than Rangers managed in the whole of last season. Even his biggest critics concede he’s a good coach, and that’s what QPR feel they need with their current squad.
But his brief record at Loftus Road comes with the same enormous qualification we trot out whenever any flat earther says “at least Redknapp won a promotion”. That QPR team cost, in transfer fees and wages, just shy of £100m. The wage bill of £75m was the biggest the Championship has ever seen. We brought in proven internationals like Javier Chevanton and Oguchi Onyewu, with 100 caps between them, to sit on the bench as cover. It was disgusting, a flagrant breach of FFP from which we’re still trying to extricate ourselves.
That run of games also included fixtures against Huddersfield, Bolton, Birmingham, Barnsley and, most starkly, Yeovil Town who could have funded their whole squad for the entire season with change for the money QPR paid for and to Matt Phillips. These were essentially the poorest teams in the division at that stage on and off the field – Barnsley and Yeovil finished as the bottom two, Birmingham stayed up with the last kick of the season, Huddersfield were 17th, Sheff Wed 16th and Bolton 14th. We played none of the top eight during his time here.
That Tosser Redknapp may have made it look like a monumental struggle once McClaren had left and he actually had to come out of the portacabin away from the Racing Post and onto the training ground for a bit (he got Wally Downes in to do it in the end), but to any kind of coach worth his salt it was the very definition of a sledgehammer and nut situation. He’ll find a very, very different set of circumstances to work under at Loftus Road this time. We had Charlie Austin, Bobby Zamora and Andy Johnson to pick from up front when he was last here, now we have Matt Smith, Idrissa Sylla and Conor Washington. His centre backs last time were Nedum Onuoha, Clint Hill and Richard Dunne, as it stands at the moment we’re going in with Grant Hall (if he ever gets fit again), Alex Baptiste and Joel Lynch (when he’s feeling up to it).
Senior figures at QPR were concerned about the same three things we all were with Ian Holloway: the away results, and the total lack of improvement in them; the volatile outbursts, contradictory rambles; and the inconsistency in team selection, the number of changes, and the amount of times players found themselves dropped after good performances. They’re looking for more “consistency of approach” and improved player development as we look to really ramp up the buy low, sell high sustainability model.
McClaren has always spoken intelligently, insightfully and thoughtfully about the game, so the days of long, rambling tangents, angry rants, weird stirring with Brentford and objections to what’s being said behind the dugouts are, hopefully, thankfully, over. But whether the team selections and away results will make people any happier than Holloway’s did remains to be seen. There have been far more failures in McClaren’s career than successes.
Perhaps much will depend on his precise role – either as a conventional manager, or as head coach within the director of football and head of recruitment model currently in place. The club want and expect Gary Penrice to stay and it to be the latter, which would be good based on what he’s produced so far. The perception is that McClaren is far better as a coach, as he was at Derby first time and Man Utd, than as a manager outright, where since his fantastic title winning season at Twente he’s had unsuccessful spells, often with plenty of money to spend, at Wolfsburg, Forest, Derby twice, Twente again and Newcastle.
He walks into a situation at QPR the difficulty of which I’m not sure is fully comprehended by those that just want to see Holloway out and to hell with anything else. Next season is the final parachute payment after which QPR will have to stand on their own two feet, with season ticket revenues of just £5.4m a year. The budget has been cut, cut again, and will continue to be cut. That’s thanks to the FFP regulations rather than the board’s unwillingness to get the cheque book out (they definitely would given half a chance), and the squad has just lost three influential senior players, including the captain and best defender. Jack Robinson could well be following them, probably dependent on whether Fulham win promotion and adjust their sights or don’t and take him on a free. Leading a young squad like ours into a long Championship season shorn of that quality and influence and with little money to replace them is a big ask – QPR’s record with and without Onuoha last season was telling.
Holloway knew and accepted all of that, and kept QPR safe in midtable despite it. The consensus among his critics is that the team is better than midtable and is held back by his confused tactics and team selections, but then the general consensus about Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink was that he was too negative and we just needed to open up and be a bit more attacking and look what happened there. Another problem McClaren may find is that people who think Holloway’s sacking was harsh won’t give him much time to settle in and get going here. A whole new troll army of keyboard warriors who liked Holloway may now emerge to replace the vocal ones who didn’t, haranguing the club and its co-chairman on social media after every misstep or defeat.
It also looks and feels like another ‘coronation’ of a big name, rather than an appointment made at the end of a proper process. QPR have apparently sounded other potential candidates out and not found a lot of takers due to the financial constraints, but there are good, bright, young managers doing big things on slim resources in the lower divisions – Paul Hurst at Shrewsbury and our own Gareth Ainsworth at Wycombe chief amongst them – who just don’t seem to be on our radar. An interview process isn’t fool proof, the last one produced Hasselbaink, but after Hughes, Redknapp and to some extent Holloway I do get a little uneasy when we just go for the obvious, well-known, option. McClaren is clearly not in high demand, his only work in the last year being a brief coaching consultancy in Israel. Much like Holloway, we’re again making an appointment very few other teams in the division would consider.
In many ways McClaren is a perfect fit for QPR, as somebody who talks a really good game but frequently ends up looking a bit daft. At Fulham away last season, a conveniently timed television appearance saw him waxing lyrical about QPR, their recent change of formation, the performance of Eze and potential of Smyth. He knew our squad inside out, and we probably should have smelt a rat then, but he’s always been able to speak well about football. That clip of him commentating on England v Iceland for Sky is pure McClaren – erudite, intelligent, incisive, making sense, and yet still looking like a complete arse. Maybe he’d like to write for LFW?
In theory it’s great. A technically adept coach to improve what we have, drive the youngsters forward, make sellable assets of them, is exactly what you want in straightened times. Holloway made, and continued to make, many mistakes and this is exactly the right time to be assessing the situation and ditching the manager if you’re not sure about him, rather than making a change in September or October after a poor start. But we’ve been caught coveting greener grass on the other side of the fence before and McClaren’s record is, at best, mixed.
The Twitter @loftforwords
Pictures – Action Images
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