Magic Mac, where has all the magic gone? Since the start of the season, everyone in Enschede has been wondering what has happened to Steve McClaren. What has happened to the coach that in 2010 led FC Twente to the first Eredivisie title in their history? “One of the biggest problems that a coach has to face”, McClaren has been heard to say recently when questioned about the Tukkers’ current crisis, “is that everyone is still living in the past: fans, media, owners. Forget the 2010 title winners. Twente are currently a completely different team.”
Statistics sadly agree with the English coach. For the first time in 10 years, Twente have failed to record a win for five consecutive Eredivisie games. Moreover, in his first spell in Enschede, McClaren’s team clocked up an average of 2.09 points per game, in all competitions. Now this total has fallen to just 1.76 points per game.
At the time of writing, Twente have not yet won a match in 2013. McClaren’s men started the new year with an unimpressive draw at home against RKC Waalwijk, then after a lucky 0-0 against Feyenoord at De Kuip, slipped to a heavy 4-2 defeat at the season’s surprise package FC Utrecht. The most painful results however were two consecutive 1-1 draws against relegation candidates PEC Zwolle and Willem II. It all adds up to a disappointing slump which has seen Twente slip off the title race pace.
The Enschede-based side appear to be missing all the qualities that helped them move from a best-of-the-rest Eredivisie club to real powerhouses in Dutch football, with creativity, mental toughness and flair. While during his first period in charge McClaren sought to mix Dutch-style attacking football with a desire for clean sheets, the Englishman’s current Twente team are serving up some of the most uninspired and defensive football in the Eredivisie. McClaren has bet big once again on the clean sheet philosophy, but seems to have forgotten the rest.
“Not playing good football is considered a crime in Holland”, McClaren conceded. “When in November we topped the Eredivisie, English journalists I spoke with couldn’t believe I was receiving such criticism from their Dutch colleagues. You can imagine the situation now. However, I will not give up. A captain doesn’t leave the ship in the middle of a storm, but tries to sail it out.”
McClaren was welcomed back as a saviour by Twente’s fans when he replaced Co Adriaanse in the dugout over a year ago. Despite having more to lose than gain at a club with which he wrote history, the English boss chose the Tukkers are a familiar place to recover after disappointing stints at Wolfsburg and Nottingham Forest. The 2011/12 season however ended in a lacklustre sixth place, mainly due to the inconsistency of a side that qualified for the Europa League only thanks to UEFA’s fair play rankings. It was a wake-up call McClaren shouldn’t have ignored.
Last summer Twente sold two key players in winger Ola John (to Benfica) and striker Luuk de Jong (to Borussia Monchengladbach); it was nothing new under the Enschede sun, as in recent years the Tukkers have continued to fight at the top end of the Eredivisie despite selling their best players, Eljero Elia, Marko Arnautovic, Cheick Tiote and Bryan Ruiz the most well-known. This time however the newcomers did not hit the heights expected, with players like Luc Castaignos, Felipe Gutierrez and Dmitry Bulykin failing to show their best. The only exception has been Serbian attacking midfielder Dusan Tadic, but his superb technique and vision have not always been able to make up for the lack of inspiration of his team-mates up front.
Injuries and the lack of a leader in the squad have done the rest. Between October and December, Twente suffered two unexpected cup exits, in the Dutch Cup and the Europa League respectively. In the Dutch Cup, McClaren’s men were surprisingly beaten at home by second division outfit Den Bosch in the last eight, while in the Europa League they finished bottom of a group including Hannover, Levante and Helsingborgs – not exactly a group of death.
The squad’s confidence was dealt a fatal blow with an injury to Belgian playmaker Nacer Chadli and a collapsed transfer for midfielder Leroy Fer. The "Fer affair" stood as a symbol of confusion in the club. A fee was agreed with English Premier League side Everton for the player, but a knee problem arose during the midfielder’s medical with the Toffees, which resulted in Everton asking to renegotiate the terms of the deal. The two clubs could not find an agreement and a “devastated” (according to McClaren) Fer had to give up on his Premier League dream, until the summer at least. A key player in Twente’s 4-3-3, Fer has to mentally recover from the collapse of the deal, yet another problem for the Tukkers’ English coach.
Despite the critical situation and supporters rebelling (they unfurled a banner reading ‘Steve go home’ as the Tukkers drew against Willem II), Twente chairman Joop Munsterman has stated that McClaren’s job is safe. And the coach still believes things will improve. “I am the first to say that performing in this way will not get us anywhere”, he admitted. “However, if you look at the table, we are just six points from the top and three from the Champions League zone. We just need to break the vicious circle we are in and we can only do that with a victory. Nothing beats winning and this is the same everywhere.” McClaren also mocked any suggestion he is feeling the pressure. “Pressure? After being England coach, I don’t know what this word means.”
He may soon find the Twente hot seat getting warmer even than that at Wembley if the Tukkers’ situation does not improve soon.
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