TRUTH is, Steve McClaren may never shake off the stigma of England failure. Of being the Wally with the Brolly, sheltering miserably with a cup of coffee while a place in Euro 2008 slipped away.
He knows it too. “I don’t think a day goes by when some aspect of that experience doesn’t come flashing into my mind,” he said in 2010. “I felt I let down a nation.
“But being a manager is what I do. Generally I’ve been quite successful in what I do, but you can’t win every time. Sometimes failures come, and this was a big failure.”
It was, one that has unquestionably cost the 52-year-old any hope of a Premier League job in the six years since he was swept out of Wembley on a tumult of media fury.
Yet McClaren is also the man who helped Alex Ferguson win the treble at Manchester United in 1999. Who, in his first managerial post, guided Middlesbrough to the UEFA Cup final.
Who, in 2010, boldly took the reins at unfashionable Dutch side FC Twente and within two years became the first English coach to win a title on foreign soil since Bobby Robson’s Porto in 1996. Who, along the way, was told by Johan Cruyff that Twente were playing the kind of football he wanted to see Holland play.
Though there have been failures since – with German side Wolfsburg, with Nottingham Forest and on returning to Twente – McClaren has achieved enough in his career to suggest the England debacle was the exception rather than the norm.
“He was the best coach I ever had,” said Dutch midfielder George Boateng, McClaren’s skipper at Boro.
“His coaching was amazing. He would do sessions that made you think twice, rather than go through the motions, without engaging your brain. Once, I’d been away all week with Holland. I came back, Steve did a session, and I said: ‘Hey, we just did this with the national team!’
“He looked at me and said: ‘Do you think I just turn up and do any old thing?’ He knew every drill, every training method.”
Not that McClaren had any real top-level experience as a player to fall back on. Born in York, he captained his school side and played for Yorkshire boys but was always considered too slight for a career at the highest level. Instead, he spent the majority of his playing days as a midfielder at Hull, playing 178 times in six years before a move to Derby in 1985.
There, he won the only major honour of his playing career, the Division Two title in 1986-87, seeing out his time at Bristol City and then Oxford before injury forced him to retire, aged 31, in 1992.
As a coach, he made his name at Oxford under Jim Smith, winning promotion to the Premier League and forging a reputation as a cutting-edge coach with a knowledge of new technology and foreign methods.
So it was that Man United snapped him up in early 1999, the start of a trophy-laden spell that brought an unprecedented three straight league titles.
“Steve was fantastic,” said United striker Teddy Sheringham. “He was ready to learn from other clubs, other countries and other sports. And his interest in video analysis and sports psychology gave us another dimension.”
Unwilling to stay in the shadows, McClaren joined Middles- brough in 2001, winning the League Cup in 2004, twice qualifying for Europe and finishing seventh in the league.
Though well backed by chairman Steve Gibson, his tactical nous was never better illustrated that during the run to the UEFA Cup final. Boro twice came back from 3-0 down, with McClaren ending those games with five strikers on the pitch.
Like the England job, like the controversial decision to drop David Beckham, like the move to Twente, it was a bold move.
“I take risks. I make gutsy decisions,” said McClaren. “And that’s why sometimes I fall flat on my face. But you have to be brave.”
And it was that aspect of his character that won over the Dutch backroom team he inherited at Twente.
“Firstly, Steve is just a very nice person,” said coach Jan van Staa. “In Holland he was known as a gentleman because of the way he spoke and treated people.
“And tactically, he is proactive. He is not scared of making tactical changes during games. If he sees something is not working, he will change it and change it quickly.”
It was 2010 when McClaren won the title with Twente. Three years and three failures on, he is back at Derby, this time as the top man. And having rebuilt his reputation once, it is time to do it again.
Born: York, 1961 (Age 52)
Playing career: A talented schoolboy sportsman, McClaren played rugby, tennis, squash and cricket before settling on football, joining Hull at 18 upon leaving school. A skilful midfielder, he spent six years with the Tigers, scoring 16 goals in 178 games. Spotted by Arthur Cox, he was signed by Derby in 1985 but was only ever other the fringes of the side that won the Second Division title in 1987. After a spell on loan at Lincoln, McClaren spent a season-and-half at Bristol City, playing 66 times, before a move to Oxford in 1989. However, he played just 33 times before injury forced his retirement in 1992.
Managerial career: Offered a coaching role at Oxford, McClaren spent three years at The Manor Ground before joining Jim Smith at Derby in 1995, assisting Jim Smith in the Rams’ promotion to the Premier League. After Brian Kidd left Manchester United in 1999, McClaren was headhunted to become Alex Ferguson’s assistant and helped secure the treble in his first season. Appointed Middlesbrough boss in 2001, he led the Teesiders to the League Cup, seventh in the Prem and the UEFA Cup final before leaving to become England manager. Sacked after failing to qualify for Euro 2008, he returned with Dutch side FC Twente, winning the Dutch title in 2010, then joined German outfit Wolfsburg but was sacked after just six months. An even briefer stint with Forest was followed by an unsuccessful return to Twente and McClaren started this season as a coach at QPR before joining Derby.