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Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Come In Out Of The Rain

Nobes looks at the rehabilitation process of former England coach Steve McClaren after he replaces Billy Davies at Nottingham Forest.

Steve McClaren endured a difficult spell as coach of the England national team

It's a night that is forever etched into the memory of English football fans: the sight of Steve McClaren shielding himself under an umbrella on the Wembley touchline.

"The Wally with the Brolly," was the barb aimed in his direction, after a 3-2 defeat to Croatia saw him fail in his attempts to steer England to Euro 2008.

While the umbrella may have protected the 50-year-old from the elements on a miserable
- in every sense of the word - night at Wembley in November 2007, it couldn't stop the barrage of abuse that came McClaren's way.

Nor could it halt the inevitable sequence of events. The former Manchester United assistant was swiftly dismissed by the Football Association for failing to take the national team to a tournament for the first time in fourteen years.

Now, he is in danger of joining the likes of Burgess Meredith and Patrick MacNee on a short list of people most readily identified for carrying around an umbrella with them.

However, his appointment as Billy Davies's successor at Nottingham Forest provides him with the chance to continue rebuilding a reputation which took a severe knocking and get a once promising managerial career back on track.

His arrival in the East Midlands comes via a spell on the continent enjoying mixed fortunes as he embraced the European game.

First in Holland, he took unfashionable FC Twente to the first Eredivisie crown in their history. In doing so, he followed in the footstep of Sir Bobby Robson, who left England to enjoy similar success at PSV Eindhoven in 1992.

Last season he spent a few months at German side Wolfsburg, but found himself unable to replicate success in the Low Countries in Lower Saxony.

Now, with parts of the country officially declared as being in drought last week, it's tempting to suggest that he couldn't have chosen a better time to return to the English game. He's unlikely to need any shelter in the current climate.

In many ways, the move to Forest, when a return to Twente was also a possibility, is a reflection of a man with a point to prove - and who's confident he can do just that. Returning to Holland would have been the easy choice.

He should also be applauded for choosing to return to the English game outside the Premier League. Albeit, the expectation on him will be to swiftly take Forest back into the top flight.

This from a man roundly chastised by the press during his time as England manager. From unconvincing displays and bizarre tactical choices to his habit, at times, of acting more like the players' friend than their boss.

His almost ubiquitous smile - when most of the country were feeling like doing anything but smiling - also provided further ammunition for media hounds just waiting for the Yorkshireman to fail.

However, he didn't become a bad manager overnight. History forgets that the England side that took to the field against Croatia were missing many of its key men.

Had they managed even a draw then the national side would have gone to Austria and Switzerland the next summer.

McClaren would probably have remained in his post and his reputation would be no worse than any other England manager who has failed to win a tournament.

As it was though, there was something almost poetic about the way the curtain came down on his reign during an evening of mishaps in the rain at Wembley. Not so much God's tears, as England's.

The nation held its breath - as attention turned to how rivals Russia were doing and the grim reality dawned that England were now relying on a favour from minnows Andorra. Unsurprisingly, none was forthcoming.

McClaren began rebuilding his reputation by taking FC Twente to the Dutch title

He will receive no favours at the City Ground either. While managing Forest will attract nowhere near the same media scrutiny he received as England coach, he is under great pressure to deliver promotion.

Not since 1999 have Forest played in the top flight. It's been a spell which has seen the two-times European Cup winners even spend three years in League One.

His predecessor Billy Davies, a volatile figure at the best of times, seemed to be navigating the club back on a course towards the Premier League, with back-to-back play off finishes.

However, defeat in successive years to Blackpool and Swansea at the semi final stage - allied to a fractious relationship with chairman Nigel Doughty and the board at the City Ground - saw Davies relieved of his duties.

The Scot - who has never failed during a full season to guide a side into the Championship's top six - is a formidable act for McClaren to follow. At the very least, Forest will be expected to finish in the top six again.

Not that they're assured to. He is entering arguably one of the most competitive divisions in European football - without any prior experience of managing at that level.

A sound time in charge at Middlesbrough in the top flight - including taking them to League Cup glory in 2005 followed by the UEFA Cup final in 2006 - should offer Forest fans cause for optimism.

None of it will be any guarantee of success on his return to the English domestic game though. True, Kevin Keegan returned from his time with England to lead Manchester City to the second tier title in 2002.

However, Graham Taylor - the last manager before McClaren to not take the national side to a major tournament - failed to guide Woverhampton Wanderers to top fight promotion on his return to management in 1994.

As Taylor found on his arrival at Molineux, McClaren's first mission may well be to simply win around some Forest fans who will hold his failings as England manager against him.

If rumours are to be believed both Blackburn and, most recently, Aston Villa decided against appointing McClaren fearing a backlash from supporters.

Emotions run deep when it comes to the national team - and arguably even deeper for club sides. It's the nightmare at Wembley, not Middlesbrough's success at the Millennium Stadium, which will be freshest in some Forest's fans minds.

Hitting the ground running will be essential in convincing supporters that he is a better manager for his time abroad, and than his time with England showed.

In doing so, he will seek to restore Forest to the level they feel they belong at, as well as his reputation. His task now is to do what Davies couldn't - and take Forest the extra step.

To do so he'll have to hold off the challenge of the likes of former club Boro, as well as resurgent forces in the guise of fellow former top flight sides Leeds, Ipswich, and Southampton.

The relegated trio of Blackpool, Birmingham, and West Ham United will all hope to be in contention for an instant Premier League return too.

There's sure to be added spice as well as he competes against local rivals Leicester, under the management of his former England mentor Sven-Goran Eriksson, one of the favourites for promotion.

If he succeeds in his recovery mission, then this corner of the East Midlands, if not the rest of the country, will be ready to forgive him for his England sins.

Who knows, if the sun shines for him at the City Ground, he may even be tempted to bring out the parasol.

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