England sack coach McClaren

Steve McClaren paid the price of England’s failure to qualify for Euro 2008 on Thursday when he was unceremoniously dismissed from his position as head coach.

McClaren, who had refused to resign, was sacked less than 12 hours after a 3-2 win for Croatia at Wembley, combined with Russia’s 1-0 win in Andorra, confirmed that England would miss out on a major tournament for the first time since the 1994 World Cup in the United States.

An emergency meeting of the Football Association’s (FA) executive board was wound up almost as soon as it began with McClaren’s employers unanimously agreeing that they had no option but to call an end to the former Middlesbrough manager’s hapless 15-month reign.

McClaren’s assistant, Terry Venables, was also sacked as the FA pledged a “root and branch” inquest into how an England squad that can call upon some of the biggest names in world football had failed to get through a group that was regarded as easily negotiable when the qualifying draw was made two years ago.

FA chief executive Brian Barwick, the man who appointed McClaren and give him a four-year contract with no penalties for failure, said the board had been left with no alternative.

“In the end, not qualifying for Euro 2008 comes up short,” Barwick said. “Qualification for a major tournament is probably a minimum requirement.”

The FA said it would immediately begin a search for a successor to McClaren but, with England having no scheduled matches before a friendly in France in March, has set no timeframe on the selection process.

Aston Villa manager Martin O’Neill, who was a candidate for the position when McClaren got the job in the wake of the 2006 World Cup, is regarded as the best-placed candidate. Villa owner Randy Lerner has indicated that he will not stand in his way if he wants to take on the role.

The FA will inevitably also look at the possibility of approaching Jose Mourinho, who has been out of work since leaving Chelsea in September, but it must be doubtful whether he would want the job and whether the governing body would be able or willing to handle such a controversial figure.

McClaren, who stepped up from his former role as number two to Sven Goran Eriksson in the wake of the last World Cup, was handicapped from the start by a feeling that he was both a natural number two and a second-choice appointment, the FA having bungled approaches to both Guus Hiddink and Luiz Felipe Scolari.

Although McClaren refused to resign immediately after he and his players were booed off the Wembley turf by an angry capacity crowd, he did agree that he had to take responsibility for his squad’s failure.

“It is an indescribable pain,” McClaren said.
“There is so much expectation, both from the fans in the stadium and the people watching on TV at home.

“We have let them down. We know what they are feeling—we are feeling exactly the same.

“I take responsibility. Ultimately, I said judge me over 12 games. We deserve to be where we finish and we have not deserved to qualify. That is my responsibility.”

Those remarks suggest McClaren knew that his fate was sealed. By refusing to resign, however, he ensured that his employers would be obliged to pay him off for the remaining two years of his contract.

Having presided over a qualifying campaign in which England lost three out of 12 matches as well as being held to draws in Israel and—ultimately fatally—at home to Macedonia, McClaren will walk away with a severance payment in the region of £2,5-million.

That particular bill will take the total cost of his time in charge to more than £10-million—missing out on Euro 2008 will cost the FA a minimum of £8-million in prize money and television revenue.

In the long-term, the losses could be many times that figure because of the damage the debacle of the qualifying campaign has done to the brand value of what was once regarded as a “golden” generation of England players.—AFP

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