Fleet Street never had so much fun. Steve McClaren, who had never played or managed in London and hailed from Yorkshire was the England manager. McClaren in retrospect never had a chance with the snobbish London set, which is intent on writing tabloid headlines and poking fun at outsiders and those who don’t wine and dine them. Today, it is McClaren who gets the last laugh as the first Englishman to lift a major European domestic league title trophy in fourteen years now that his side, FC Twente, has won the Eredivisie title in the Netherlands.
While it is certainly true that McClaren had trouble as England manager, the hostile British press perhaps forgot his contributions to Manchester United as a Sir Alex Ferguson’s assistant and Middlesbrough’s run to the UEFA Cup Final in 2006. McClaren failed to qualify England for Euro 2008, thanks in large measure to a controversial penalty call against Wayne Rooney in Moscow, on a plastic pitch.
In two seasons under McClaren, FC Twente has finished second and now first first in the Dutch Eredivisie, helping to break up the duopoly domination of Ajax and PSV in recent seasons. Twente fans don’t read the English papers and have adopted the chant “Only one Steve McClaren” to honor the manager who has brought glory to a small club. Twente had previously never won a top flight title in Holland.
A pragmatic approach describes McClaren’s Twente success. In England, tactical flexibility is still difficult: while McClaren had some success experimenting with Boro, his wise effort to play a 3-5-2 against Croatia (which was the best formation to face the Croats circa 2006/07 with) backfired because England’s personnel had never been placed in such a formation. But at Twente, McClaren has played 3-5-2, 4-3-3, 4-5-1 and 4-4-2 as he prepared for specific opponents and matchups.
Without question, PSV and Ajax still have the two most talented sides in Holland. Martin Jol’s Ajax team which is filled with present and future international caliber players ran up a plus 86 goal difference against overwhelmed opponents, yet only could manage a second place finish. PSV spent much of the season undefeated in the domestic league. Ajax, PSV and Twente all advanced to the knock out stages of the Europa League.
Despite a talent gap, McClaren maximized his tactical savvy and experience at the highest level to get Twente prepared for every single match this storybook season. Of particular strength was Bryan Ruiz, the Costa Rican international attacker who lit up the league and scored several timely game changing goals.
McClaren’s league title, as mentioned above is the first by an English Manager in a top flight European league in 14 years. Sir Bobby Robson won the title with Porto in Portugal in 1995-1996. FC Twente’s qualification for the group stages of the Champions League is the first direct Champions League qualification by an English manager since Robson’s Newcastle team in 2003.
Kartik Krishnaiyer is a former EPL Talk Podcast host and is now the director of communications for the North American Soccer League.. This piece does not reflect the views of the NASL or its’ member teams.