Tuesday, January 22, 2008
McClaren still feeling pain of England exit
Despite taking unfancied Middlesbrough to a UEFA Cup final in 2006, Steve McClaren will be best remembered for his time with England and failure to qualify for the Euro 2008 tournament in the summer.
With that disappointment now behind him, McClaren is keen to see England do well under new coach Fabio Capello, although he admits that the weight of expectation and the sheer number of games for international players makes it harder than ever to succeed.
Press Pass caught up with the former England manager to get his take on David Beckham, England and where it all went wrong in qualifying.
Q. Steve, the England job has now passed, if we can start back there - you talked of the pride that's there to be the England coach, looking back, is there still that pride attached?
A. Yeah, of course there is. It was an honour and a proud day when I got the job, and it was the saddest day of my life when I lost it. That's how big the job was to me. I had 18 months, a fantastic 18 months - but unfortunately we couldn't deliver what we set out to do and paid the consequences.
Q. Why is the England job such a fantastic job for you?
A. I think it's the pinnacle to represent your country. When you're a small boy kicking the ball around in the street, what do you aim to do? Play for England at Wembley. That was the dream, you hung onto that as a player, all the way through and when that couldn't happen, the next thing was coaching and I wanted to be the best coach.
Q. You grabbed the headlines straight away. One of your first decisions was to leave David Beckham out. What was the thought process behind that?
A. Just to go forward. Just believing that we had the players behind, young players coming through, who could play on the right hand side and looking at Euro 2008 coming up.
I could see the likes of Steven Gerrard (who was playing on the right for Liverpool) and Owen Hargreaves, who'd come through in the World Cup. Also with Frank Lampard and Joe Cole, I could see a very strong midfield and, a great player like David Beckham, I didn't see being able to sit on the bench. I didn't really want that.
Q. Were there any problems with your relationship with David once you'd said to him 'I don't want you as part of my team'? Did it damage your relationship at all? Did he have problems?
A. I can't say it did the relationship any good. But he's a professional, he knows things like that happen in football, and what does he do? He gets on with it, dusts himself down and proves people wrong. That's what he did at Madrid with Capello, and that's what he did with England.
Q. I know you've now stepped away from the England position, but you were involved in flying across here, to the states, to watch him play, what's your thought process on him coming to the LA Galaxy and what effect will that have on his performances internationally?
A. It's going to be difficult. The travel, keeping an eye on his performances, the standard of the league - he's gone from the top, top team in Europe to the MLS where it's really at the beginnings of its development. It's not of the standard of what he's used to and definitely not of the standard of what international football requires.
So it's going to be difficult, but David I know, prides himself on playing for England. We've seen that in the past, and he'll keep fit. He's working out with Arsenal already, and I believe that he will get his 100th cap. And then it's up to him, the work that he does, performances that he puts in, as to whether he'll get any more.
Q. A couple of other interesting things that you had to deal with was the question of Lampard and Gerrard in the same midfield for England. Obviously you resolved that by leaving David out, and you could move Steven Gerrard wider. Do you see those two being able to play more centrally together or is it a case of one or the other?
A. I was involved with England for five years and I said to all the media, that doubted they could, or anybody who doubted that they could, that'd we'd lost once in about 13 or 14 games with them playing together. So however it looks it's all in the end product and the end product was that they lost one game playing for England together, in the middle of midfield.
Q. Take us to the Croatia game. What sort of emotions were you feeling going into that one?
A. I never for a moment doubted we would get the result. I felt that the campaign had gone exactly the way I had expected it to go, we struggled at the beginning, had a bad result against Macedonia and then Croatia away, but I thought we had enough games and we would get it together and be in pole position.
The only doubts that I had was that we were missing five or six key players, big players. Your Ferdinands, your Terrys, your Gary Nevilles, your Wayne Rooneys, your Michael Owens. That was my only worry on the night. But I still felt that everything was with us to get the result. It was more shock than anything that we got beat.
Q. Is the English talent pool deep enough to cope with losing that amount of big players?
A. The pool has slowly dwindled down to a number which isn't acceptable. We look at our Premier League and we look at the actual feeding grounds where English players come from and we find it's inundated with foreign players. The last count, I think 38% of English players play in the Premier League. And a very small percentage of them playing in the top four, playing in Europe, playing in the Champions League. That's where you have to play to get the experience for international football. That is the only sort of level, with that type of pressure.
Q. Have a look back at your time, the 18 months you had there. Have you been able to put your hand on your heart and say what went wrong, find out what the problem was?
A. Hindsight is a wonderful thing and you look back and think if only that had happened, but I think the major thing for me was the horrendous injuries that we had.
Injuries picked up on Friday afternoons and losing key players were important. We didn't have enough of Michael Owen, Wayne Rooney or John Terry. Gary Neville was out for the majority of the time - big players, experienced players, we didn't have them consistently and we could never get consistent teams out.
I think there was only one occasion that we played the same team twice, and that was Israel and Russia at Wembley. We won the games 3-0 and we thought we were just getting a nice settled team and then you go back to your clubs and they pick up more injuries and you lose more players. I think ultimately, we didn't get the luck with injuries and we didn't have our best players at the critical times.
Q. How much did it hurt to go out?
A. Oh, it hurt, it still does. It's always a constant reminder and will be all the way through to the summer when you watch that tournament. There is hurt, there is guilt. Everything that the fans are feeling, I'm feeling twice as bad.
Q. Do England think they are better than they are on the world stage?
A. I think we see our players individually, we see them week in, week out. You have a Gary Neville, Rio Ferdinand, John Terry, Ashley Cole, you have Steven Gerrard, Hargreaves, Lampard, Joe Cole, you have Wayne Rooney, you have Michael Owen, you look at that team and you say: 'That's a pretty good team.'
And if they play as a team, that is a pretty good team. But how many times did we have that team out? I think Capello's coming into a fantastic situation where the game is at its lowest. England is at its lowest, hasn't qualified, and the only way is up. We've got the players to do it, he's got the CV, the experience, and it's a great time to come in.
Q. What do you think of Capello's appointment? What do you know of him?
A. Well, I don't know a lot. You just look at his CV and his record, he's worked with big teams, big players, won things and has a perfect CV. I'm an Englishman, I'm a fan, yes I've been in the job, but I want England to do well. I've been involved for six and a half years, I got to know the players, the England scene, the staff, everybody.
It's a great team to be around, it's the best run team that I've ever been involved with, so there's nothing wrong behind the scenes, there's nothing wrong with how it's run. We can sort the fixtures out with less games and a winter break, these are issues we should be talking about to protect our players so we don't get burned out at the end of the season.
Q. The Premier League needs a winter break? Is that what you're saying?
A. I think so. Most definitely. It's been proven before, Sven was always an advocate, always beating the drum about a winter break because it has been proved when we've looked at injuries. The injuries are about double compared to other continents, other countries, who have a winter break.
Our top teams are playing too many games, too many competitions and our players play too much (sometimes 60 to 65 games for our top players). Then we expect them to perform in a tournament. I've had experience of that and that's why we did struggle.
Q. Do you consider your time with England as you failing?
A. No I don't. I think we didn't achieve what we set out to achieve, and that's disappointing. And I suppose yes, we failed to do that so that word is failure, but you have to learn from that and many great people, many great players, many coaches, great politicians, business people have a lot of failures in their life before they succeed. And some succeed and then fail and then come back and succeed again, it's how you bounce back, it's how you come back. I know that and that's what I want to prove.
• Catch the full interview on Press Pass this week and also in our Motion player.
Any comments? Email Us