“ARE you learning Dutch?” The question came from the front of the room. Steve McClaren smiled.
“I am trying,” he replied. “It’s a difficult language, as my Dutch friends know. But I’ll persevere.”
The road back into club management is not a smooth one for former England head coaches. Only one has ever found an English top-flight club manager’s job within12 months of leaving the England post – and that was Glenn Hoddle. (Although Sven-Goran Eriksson missed out on doing so by a matter of days.)
We are now 16 days away from the first anniversary of McClaren’s last night as an international boss, when the rain washed away not only England’s Euro 2008 hopes, but also a large chunk of his reputation.
McClaren found himself taking the Graham Taylor route to the exit door – by failing to qualify for a major tournament. Partly due to a lack of options back home, he has found himself taking the Bobby Robson route to rebuilding his career, by moving to a club side in the Netherlands.
Not that McClaren would use the word “rehabilitation” when he appeared at a press conference in Manchester this evening.
“I’m not in rehab,” he laughed. “It’s not a word for me. I’m experiencing a different culture, a different environment of football, and I’m enjoying it.
“It’s part of a career. It’s not a rehab. I’m enjoying my football.”
So McClaren is no Amy Winehouse, then. We knew that anyway. The comparisons with Graham Taylor, though, may be a little harder to shake off.
While Taylor still has to face up to the Cutting Edge “Do I Not Like That” documentary, which charted the dying days of his England reign in 1993, McClaren will have to spend the next few years living with YouTube notoriety thanks to that bizarre TV interview in which he speaks English in a Dutch accent.
The question about his progress in learning Dutch was as close as anyone got to mentioning it at the City of Manchester Stadium, though, where McClaren appeared tonight ahead of FC Twente’s UEFA Cup clash with Manchester City tomorrow evening.
McClaren has a good record against City, having never lost to the Blues during his five years as Middlesbrough manager. He also has fond memories of Manchester, where he spent two-and-a-half seasons as Sir Alex Ferguson’s assistant at United.
“I’m hoping to catch up with him in the next couple of days,” McClaren said of his former boss, who he admitted to contacting for the occasional piece of advice. Not that Ferguson has given him any advice for this game.
“No, he would never do that!” McClaren added.
It’s easy to forget, in the aftermath of his England debacle, just how high McClaren’s stock once was. Such is the lot of the former England boss.
But tomorrow, he will be back in the English spotlight again, as he tries to make life just that little bit more difficult for Mark Hughes, who appears to be nearing the end of his honeymoon period as City manager after defeats at Middlesbrough and Bolton.
“A manager gets a job and he has to be given time,” McClaren said. “When a new owner comes in so late and gives you money, you need time to develop and structure a team. It’s very difficult to get a blend and balance, and you need time for that.
“Mark has got very, very good players. The consistency at the moment is what we’re all searching for, and Manchester City are no different. But that will come with the players they’ve got.”
McClaren will be happy with a draw tomorrow night. But a draw was all he needed on that rainy night at Wembley last November too. He didn’t get it then. I don’t think he will tomorrow either.