Boro move to quell McClaren speculation

January 25, 2006

Middlesbrough have attempted to play down fresh speculation over manager Steve McClaren's future after it emerged that he had not signed his new four-year contract.

McClaren, for so long perceived as a potential successor to England manager Sven-Goran Eriksson, was paraded by chairman Steve Gibson at a press conference in November last year after he had apparently finally put pen to paper on the deal which had been on the table for several months.

However, chief executive Keith Lamb, answering questions on a Century FM radio phone-in show, confirmed that the actual signing had not yet taken place, but insisted there was nothing sinister in that as the race to identify the Swede's successor started in earnest.

Lamb later moved to clarify the situation, telling the club's official website: 'A minor amendment is needed in Steve's contract. It's a minor technical detail that is so small that it has not been an issue for either the club or Steve.

'We have long since agreed the contract and shaken hands on it, so there's absolutely no problem. The fact that the contract has not been signed is simply not an issue.'

Lamb's view was reiterated by a club spokesman, who said: 'The deal is done. This changes nothing.'

Both Boro and McClaren have insisted all along that there would be no get-out clause in the manager's new deal to allow him to accept the England job should it come his way, although both were well aware that would make little difference.

However, Eriksson's impending departure has seen he and Bolton's Sam Allardyce installed as joint favourites to take over, and the respect in which he is held within Soho Square will do him little harm.

But the former Manchester United number two, whose stock rose sharply as he guided Boro to their first major trophy, the 2004 Carling Cup in just his third season in management and helped England to the quarter-finals of the last two major competitions, has had his difficulties in recent weeks.

Boro have won none of their last nine Premiership games to slip to 17th in the table in the face of an injury crisis, and with sections of the Teessiders' support yet to fully commit to their manager's approach to the game, his future at the Riverside Stadium has been questioned by some, if not to any great extent.

That is perhaps a little harsh on a manager who has been seen as one of the game's rising stars since his move to the north-east, and he for one is confident things will turn sooner rather than later.

He has steadfastly refused to involve himself in the Eriksson saga, saying just last weekend: 'I can't say anything at the moment, and the World Cup is a long, long way away from where I'm sitting here.'

Lamb, however, expects McClaren both to launch a fightback and remain at the Riverside.

'I don't think we'll get relegated and I don't think he'll get the England job,' he told radio listeners.'

McClaren and his players - including trialists Martin Latka and Didier Agathe - are currently on a team-bonding exercise in Marbella ahead of Saturday's FA Cup fourth round trip to Coventry, and the Yorkshireman may be grateful for that, although he is certain to return to the spotlight when he heads home.