Stoppage Time – International Football Blog

Germany: No need for a brolly as McClaren hung out to dry

Posted in European Football by peterbein on February 8, 2011
Steve McClaren FC Twente

From winning the Dutch League title....

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.

Steve McClaren VfL Wolfsburg

...McClaren has failed in Wolfsburg who sacked him on Monday.

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…..?

Netherlands: McClaren should stay to further Twente cause

Posted in European Football by peterbein on May 4, 2010
Steve McClaren

Steve McClaren was ridiculed as the "wally with the brolly" after England's defeat to Croatia

Steve McClaren’s transformation from “wally with the brolly” to championship manager is now complete after his FC Twente side won their maiden Eredivisie title in the Netherlands this weekend. But almost immediately the press is in overdrive with reports that the former Middlesbrough and England coach is being sought after from other European clubs with former Bundesliga champions VfL Wolfsburg the favourites, in some quarters, to get their man. Although McClaren must be flattered to finally receive the recognition that his achievements with the Enschede based outfit deserve one should really advise him to stay with the newly-crowned Dutch champions and further the club’s ambitions as a serious competitor in the UEFA Champions League.

After England’s failure to qualify for the UEFA European Championship in 2008 McClaren was turned into a joke figure from people who saw him standing in the rain with an umbrella as symbolic of a man whose reign as national coach was as equally as damp as the weather which ultimately subjected him to much ridicule. After news came through later of his move to a little known club called FC Twente many people doubted that he would ever find footballing credibility again. This view seemed further enhanced after a now (in)famous interview in which he spoke English in a mock Dutch accent to a female interviewer from the Netherlands who spoke arguably better English than he did. After that comical episode McClaren had to do more to make the doubters eat their words but, little by little, he did that in a way which has won him many admirers for effective attacking football coupled with strong defence.

In his first season, not only were FC Twente outclassed in the UEFA Champions League qualifying round by Arsenal FC, coach McClaren was unlucky to see his side finish as double runners-up in both domestic league and cup. FC Twente would’ve been champions in the 2008-09 season had it not have been for an AZ Alkmaar side which was flourishing under the stewardship of Louis Van Gaal and which eventually strolled to win its second league title by eleven points. The disappointment was doubled for McClaren having lost out in the KNVB Beker (Dutch Cup) final against a Heerenveen side who took them all the way to a penalty shoot-out and defeat McClaren’s side from spot kicks. Thankfully for McClaren his team had gained some useful experiences which they would learn from in his second season plus he would make two inspired inclusions into his side in the form of Costa Rican striker Bryan Ruiz and Miroslav Stoch, a loan signing from English side Chelsea FC. These two players came up some many important goals throughout the campaign to keep the Tukkers one step ahead of the competition in the Eredivisie. McClaren steered his team to a near-perfect home record of 16 wins from 17 games at home, their only blemish was a 1-1 draw against PSV Eindhoven as far back as August, and they lost only two games in the league all season. Despite the heartbreak of another cup defeat, this time in the semi-finals to Feyenoord Rotterdam, McClaren kept his players motivated and they sealed their destiny on the final day of the campaign with a 2-0 win away at NAC Breda.

Steve McClaren FC Twente

Steve McClaren shows off the Eredivisie trophy after FC Twente's 2-0 win over NAC Breda

Now, though, is where the hard bargaining for Steve McClaren’s services begins. Although the German Bundesliga is, without doubt, a higher quality league than its Dutch counterpart one should encourage the Englishman to remain where he is for the time being despite the temptations of a better contract and higher transfer funds elsewhere. After all FC Twente now have guaranteed UEFA Champions League football next season whereas in his first two seasons his team has been just short of qualification, having to make do with the UEFA Cup or Europa League instead. Secondly the chairman of the club Joop Munsterman showed faith in him when everybody else was ridiculing him, allowing McClaren all the time in the world to create a good football side. Finally if he can replicate this success again and prove that it wasn’t a one-off then that will surely bring in the interests of much bigger clubs than VfL Wolfsburg in the future. You never know he may well make a return to the rain-soaked football grounds of England, only this time he will be a winner rather than a wally.

UEFA Europa League groups Round-Up: Part Two

Posted in European Football by peterbein on December 19, 2009
BATE Borisov fans

Fans of BATE Borisov taunt their opponents Everton on Matchday 2. Everton, however, had the last laugh winning 2-1.

In the second half of our UEFA Europa League group stage round-up “Stoppage Time” looks at the groups that concluded on Thursday, December 17th:

GROUP A (RSC ANDERLECHT, AJAX AMSTERDAM, DINAMO ZAGREB, FC TIMISOARA)

Blessed with years of European experience and tradition, Benelux neighbours Ajax Amsterdam and RSC Anderlecht of Brussels easily negotiated their way through this group. Their Matchday 6 match in Amsterdam still had some importance, though, as Anderlecht’s 3-1 win meant that they topped the group on account of a better head-to-head record over their Dutch challengers, both teams finishing on eleven points. Dinamo Zagreb were optimistic of further progress earlier in the competition as they had three points from two matches but they failed to build on their good start. Champions League Play-Off losers FC Timisoara scored a respectable five points on their maiden Europa League campaign but still finished fourth in the group table.

GROUP B (VALENCIA CF, LILLE, GENOA FC, SLAVIA PRAGUE)

Valencia secured qualification and the top spot on Matchday 6. They went into their game away at Genoa needing only a point to be certain of going through to the last 32 whilst hosts Genoa needed all three points to finish at least second. With the game tied at 1-1 in stoppage time, David Villa was gifted the ball from Genoa goalkeeper Alessio Scarpi to secure the victory in the 94th mnute. Elsewhere Lille’s 3-1 win at home to Slavia Prague ensured that they finished second, two points behind the leaders. Slavia, who have dominated the Czech league in the last two seasons, have been struggling domestically this season and this form was transferred into Europe as they remained without a victory after six games.

GROUP C (HAPOEL TEL AVIV, HAMBURGER SV, GLASGOW CELTIC, RAPID VIENNA)

Israeli side Hapoel were the surprise winners of this group finishing two points ahead of German giants Hamburg. Their Matchday 6 encounter in Tel Aviv ended as a 1-0 win for the hosts and it was they who leapfrogged “HSV” into first place. The biggest disappointment of the group were Scottish club Celtic who were unable to re-create their many great European nights under new coach Tony Mowbray. Among the highlights of the group were the encounters involving Celtic and Austrians Rapid Vienna, whose little known rivalry dates back to a controversial European Cup Winners’ Cup second round match in 1984-85. Both games ended drawn but the Matchday 6 encounter would’ve felt like a win for the Glasgow giants as they came back from 3-0 down after 18 minutes to draw 3-3 with virtually the last kick of the game and demote their Austrian hosts to last place.

GROUP G (RED BULL SALZBURG, VILLARREAL CF, SS LAZIO, LEVSKI SOFIA)

The only team who finished their campaign with a 100% record was Austrian side Red Bull Salzburg suggesting that they could be a good outside bet to go far in the competition. Huub Stevens’ men beat all challengers home and away to finish a clear nine points ahead of second place Villarreal. Italian capital side Lazio frustrated their followers as they could only win two of their six games and finished three points behind the little Spanish village team. Bulgarians Levski Sofia fared little better than their local rivals CSKA (see previous blog) finishing bottom with three points.

GROUP H (FENERBAHCE, FC TWENTE ENSCHEDE, STEAUA BUCHAREST, FC SHERIFF TIRASPOL)

Steve McClaren’s FC Twente were looking comfortable after two games but then nearly blew their qualifications chances. After Turkish side Fenerbahce secured the leadership of the group, FC Twente were relying on them to do them a favour on Matchday 6. Twente needed a win away at 1986 European champions Steaua Bucharest but could only manage a 1-1 draw in very cold, frosty conditions played in front of a sparse crowd. However the surprise team FC Sheriff from Moldova had to win against the already-qualified “Fener” to grab the second spot but the Turkish team did McClaren’s a favour beating the Moldovans 1-0.

GROUP I (SL BENFICA, EVERTON FC, BATE BORISOV, AEK ATHENS)

No surprises in group I were Benfica and Everton went through to the Round of 32 with one match to spare. Benfica, in particular, showed their class in their two matches with nearest challengers Everton scoring seven goals without reply in their two games (5-0 at home and 2-0 away). The Merseysiders, however, did progress thanks to three wins out of four against their eastern European opponents, the only defeat coming on Matchday 6 at home to Belarussian champions BATE Borisov but Everton were already through to the next round and played a very young team on the night. Benfica finished top with 15 points (only a shock defeat away at a very poor AEK Athens denied them a 100% record), Everton scored nine points, BATE avoided the wooden spoon scoring seven points compared to AEK’s four points.