Monday, February 7, 2011

McLaren sacked as Wolfsburg manager

Former England manager Steve McLaren was today sacked from Bundesliga club Wolfsburg after the Volkswagen-owned club failed to win it's tenth game out of eleven. In his first year in the Bundesrepublik, McLaren had helmed the Wolves to a 5-8-8 record and had been in GM Dieter Hoeness's firing line for over a month since a German Cup home defeat to Energie Cottbus.

The club, only two years removed from a Bundesliga title under former boss Felix Magath, had been heavy spenders in the past two transfer windows with Brazilian Diego arriving in the offseason as well as Tuncay in January. However the squad has failed to perform to expected standards and the task of ensuring a top-half finish for the year has fallen to McLaren's understudy and former manager of the A-League's Sydney FC, Pierre Littbarski.

McLaren is the most high-profile and successful English manager to work abroad since Sir Bobby Robson. In fact, he was encouraged in his pursuit of overseas positions by Robson as a football therapy for his star-cross'd stint as England boss. In his first year in the Netherlands, he led FC Twente to the Champions League playoffs and bettered that with their first ever Dutch title the following year. The Wolfsburg position followed soon after as budget cuts loomed large over the Enschede club.

As a person, there isn't much debate that Steve McLaren is a good man, if occasionally overmatched. It's a shame he's been forever cast as "The Wally with the Brolly" as his England reign saw him buddy-up to big name players in the exact same way Fabio Capello has not. Slandermongers suggest he was ill-suited to the job of managing his country - but honestly, who could refuse such a chance? Only one manager in recent times has ever suggested he wasn't up to his position, Interim Sunderland boss Ricky Sbragia. Football managers need to have doggedness and fight in surplus in order to succeed, the same qualities which can make it difficult to admit when you are not best suited to a job. McLaren managed though to rehabilitate his image quite thoroughly with his spell in the Eredivisie; even going from outcast to trailblazer in just two years.

Due to that horrible night against Croatia, his cards may well be marked in English management: with big clubs unwilling to associate with what amounts to an object of almost universal scorn, his best chance for a job in his homeland may be in the Championship. Like Bryan Robson, another Man U and Middlesbrough graduate, the roving life of England icon turned International manager may appeal. Unfortunately only the bravest top-flight chairman would employ a man whose alleged ineptitude cost England a berth at Euro 2008.

Which is shameful. What he accomplished at Twente - taking a small club first to the Champions' League and then the title against much more well-funded clubs - is remarkable. Wolfsburg, though a great opportunity, was also always going to be a much tougher challenge as "the franchise" Edin Dzeko agitating for a newer, wealthier club and strike partner Grafite battles ageing legs. McLaren, under the instruction of Robson, was able to repair his stock somewhat but as Wolfsburg declined the snide remarks started once more and as unfair as it is, it's apparent he may never get over his Euro 2008 Qualifying campaign.

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