Something For The Weekend (158)
There was a sense of relief on McClaren's face when he walked before the firing squad, otherwise known as the Press, on Wednesday night, as he clearly knew his fate after England's collapse in Moscow. His hour had come, just as we all knew it would.
He looked more than ready to accept the FA's thanks, his p45, and a rather handsome cheque, to see him on his way to that elephants' graveyard, where better men than he, have seen their reputations piled in a heap: the chewed-over bones of so many could-haves and should-have-beens.
Perhaps, he'll do an advert like Gareth Southgate but instead of pizza, maybe he'll be seen handing in his cheque in at Northern Rock - that should make us laugh. England manager brought to dodgy account! Yuk! yuk! yuk!
Not so long ago the demigods of the goggle-box were telling us that reaching the quarter-finals of the World Cup amounted to failure and they fashioned a rope out the strands of the phrase 'the golden generation' and Ulrika's knicker-elastic, to hang the Swede. Strange fruit indeed.
Today these Pharisees, who we are meant to take seriously, are seen advising us on what supermarket to use - the whores of Babylon. But their opinions on McClaren are guarded, vague and ambiguous. What kind of punditry is that? Punditry always goes into crisis, when the cycle of events, is shorter than the attention-span of the punters. And twelve months is a bit short, even for us, the morons of habitual forgetfulness.
Under Eriksson England were ranked as 5th in the world and where are they now?
Four candidates on the FA's little list, turned the job down before McClaren was even considered. Four candidates had considered whether they were willing to submit themselves to the forensic examination of their personal lives, acceptance would entail. Four candidates had concluded in a variety of languages: 'Fu*k that for a game of soldiers'. Four candidates declined the poisoned chalice, before McClaren even got a sip and the Ramsey wafer put on his tongue.
Even then, McClaren was required to confess an extra-marital affair. It was only when the prurience of the Press had been satisfied that he was declared pure enough to take the job and the gods of the Sun were appeased. Traditionally, you need a virgin, if you are going to make a human sacrifice.
See the whole process here and what any future candidate can look forward to.
But should we be lighting the pyre just yet?
The argument for and against McClaren is more or less balanced. England have looked a pretty decent outfit, since he got the midfield pairing right, and easily good enough to grace any international tournament. Even if his discovery of Gareth Barry was entirely serendipitous, he still made the decision amongst a host of options and his picking of Heskey was both brave and inspired. Dropping Beckham and then bringing him back again was pragmatism of the first water.
Up until Wednesday, he looked to have grown into the job and a lot of people were beginning to wonder whether they had pre-judged him. But the selection of Lescott at left-back was such a huge and horrendous mistake, and one which ultimately cost him everything - the doubters returned in squadrons. Some are saying, that he had no other option but any number of choices would have been better than seeing Joe Cole in that position, while Lescott clung to the other centre-backs like an Emperor Penguin in a blizzard. In such a crucial game, this looked like madness verging on recklessness. As good as England had been, there was no hint that they were ready, to make the transition to 'total football', where every position is interchangeable with every other - the classic Hollandaise sauce. No way.
As usual, in an effort to salve the nations feelings and disperse the blame, some are saying that Russia were technically superior - Trevor Brooking, Blah! Blah! Blah! Wayne Rooney, Gareth Barry, Joe Cole and Ferdinand, not technical? Nonsense! Jack Charlton was not technical but the present boys?
The real problem with England is the fear which emerges as soon as they suffer a set-back. This used to be reserved for penalty shoot-outs but now has become part of normal play. The sight of Gerrard, Cole and Rooney, charging about the pitch, diving in with unsuccessful sliding tackles, is not what you want to see from an England team, and just gets you thinking, oh, dear, they have lost their heads.
Beyond anything, to do with tactical awareness and team selection, any present or future England manager, needs to address this problem. The problem is probably societal - we just don't do self-belief like the Germans. Private Frazer in Dad's Army seems the perfect personification of the national spirit. Don't panic - We're all doomed...aye. - the national motto.
Just swapping McClaren for the least fancied on a list of ten candidates, will not cure this. And there is the option of sticking with him and not responding to the knee-jerk demands from those who have no concern other than the narrow strand of whatever media pays them. After all, what is McClaren guilty of? Loyalty - to Robinson. And imaginative decision-making - Barry, Heskey and Lescott.
Aren't these the sort of traits we are proud to call English? Wouldn't sacking him prove what poor deluded losers we are these days. Doesn't the fear, so obvious at the heart of every England team, arise from the knee-jerk short-termism, which has seen too many decent managers, sacrificed to appease the media swine and their patrons the mob?
I think it is time that the FA showed some nerve. McClaren is a better manager today, than the day they saw fit to hire him and they should stand by their man.
It won't happen though, because the media needs new grist for its ravenous mill and the fans need to maintain the delusion that there is a man out there, who is capable of turning England's mixture of promise and mediocrity into world-beaters. We'll see.
Sir Alex makes his prediction: