Germany: No need for a brolly as McClaren hung out to dry
I’d hate to say “I told you so” as I don’t like to see people fail in their jobs. However one could see from the outset that it was a case of attempting to run before you can walk in relation to Steve McClaren’s move from Dutch champions FC Twente Enschede, who he had admirably taken to their maiden Eredivisie title in the 2009-10 season, to the depths of despair at an ambitious yet deeply flawed VfL Wolfsburg side in Germany’s Bundesliga. As somebody might say when adopting a McClaren-esque Dutch accent, sorry Schteve, but you should’ve schtayed in Holland.
I wrote an article in May 2010 (“McClaren Should Stay To Further Twente Cause”) highlighting the former England coach’s success in the Netherlands at FC Twente and why it is was perhaps a tad too soon for him to jump ship despite the obvious pulling power of a league as strong as the Bundesliga. In little more than six months in the VfL Wolfsburg job those thoughts have been proven right as the only consistency that McClaren enjoyed at the club was inconsistency; with just five wins in 21 league games and a humiliating elimination from the DFB Pokal (German Cup) at the hands of 2. Liga side Energie Cottbus in the Round of 16 stage it was clear for most that McClaren was finding it difficult to make the transition into German football.
At the same time that his charges in Lower Saxony were struggling for form his previous club FC Twente have maintained the momentum started under him thanks to the appointment of the experienced and under-rated Michel Preud’homme. The former Belgian international goalkeeper, who has already won league titles in Belgium with Standard Liege as a coach, got over a slowish start to life in Enschede and has guided the Tukkers to their current position of second place, just behind PSV Eindhoven on goal difference. With the club still in the KNVB Beker (Dutch Cup) and the UEFA Europa League things are looking bright for the provincial side and McClaren must surely be looking at his former club wondering what might’ve been had he stayed.
So where did it all go wrong for McClaren? After all when he took charge the club had splashed out big money on a number of players including Simon Kjær, Arne Friedrich and former Bremen star Diego who had cut short his stay with Juventus to come back to Germany. But although the campaign got off to a decent start with a 2-1 away win against Preußen Münster in the 1st round of the cup it would be a week later in which McClaren would experience for the first time the ups and downs of being Wolfsburg coach when his side lost out to a last minute Bastian Schweinsteiger strike away at champions FC Bayern. Die Wölfe then went on to lose their next two games (including a calamitous 4-3 defeat at home to 1.FSV Mainz after being 3-0 up) before a three match winning streak against Hannover 96, Hamburger SV and SC Freiburg suggested that McClaren had weathered the storm.
Sadly that would be the only decent run of wins that McClaren would experience as his team proved incapable of finding consistency. Following that three match run the club would only experience one more victory (2-0 against a VfB Stuttgart side in even more of a crisis than Wolfsburg) before the winter break, at which time McClaren’s team finished in a woeful 13th place, leading club Manager Dieter Hoeneß to give the Englishman the dreaded vote of confidence and the fans to display a banner reminding him of his past as Der Trottel mit dem Schirm (The Wally with the Brolly). But, despite the negative vibe surrounding the coach, he was allowed to deal in the winter transfer market and brought in many more players including, amongst others, Germany international Patrick Helmes but only having seen the departure of top striker Edin Džeko to Manchester City.
Following the resumption of the Bundesliga in January VfL Wolfsburg claimed a last-gasp draw at home to FC Bayern before scraping a 1-0 win away at Mainz. This, once again, gave McClaren a bit of breathing space but the knives had already been sharpened by a section of fans who were impatient for the team to get results. McClaren’s penultimate game saw an expected defeat against runaway league leaders Borussia Dortmund but the next game against local rivals Hannover 96 would prove to be the last straw, especially as Diego not only defied his coach’s orders by taking a penalty kick meant for Patrick Helmes (predictably, Diego missed) but the team went down to yet another defeat. As a result Wolfsburg announced McClaren’s departure on Monday with Pierre Littbarski taking over with immediate effect. The new coach’s first move on Tuesday was to drop Diego for the club’s next game against Hamburger SV this weekend as a result of his actions in Hannover.
It’s anybody’s guess what Steve McClaren’s next move will prove to be but one can only hope, for his sake, that the travails of his time in Germany haven’t damaged him as quickly as he repaired his reputation in Holland. After a couple of years away will McClaren finally face up to his critics again in England…..?