England fans might find it fitting that in the week Fabio Capello’s team slumped to a listless Wembley defeat, Steve McClaren could still be seen pitch side, under pouring rain, unable to believe just how his side had thrown away a match.
Three Novembers ago, McClaren was in his last days as England coach, hunched up under an oversized umbrella watching his charges lose a decisive Euro 2008 qualifier against Croatia at Wembley. The ”Wally with a Brolly” was born.
The Yorkshireman has swapped Wembley for Wolfsburg but there are still some very dark clouds on the horizon.
On Saturday, his Wolves side were leading Schalke 2-0. Three points seemed safely in the bag. But the visitors’ crafty No. 7 Raul set up a smart equalizer and McClaren’s men suddenly got the wobbles.
Then, McClaren had a stroke of awful luck. Schalke’s Klaas Jan Huntelaar controlled the ball with his hand in the box and, a la Thierry Henry, knocked in an equalizer.
Back in 2007 at Wembley, McClaren stood still in shock, but after Saturday’s late disaster, he was apoplectic, following referee Wolfgang Stark, who also sent off midfielder Ashkan Dejagah, down the tunnel to protest.
McClaren’s continuing inability to grasp the language of Goethe will probably help him escape a fine from the German football federation.
“30,000 people in the stadium saw the handball, only the officials didn’t,” McClaren grumbled afterwards, in English. “But even if there is a lot going against us at the moment, if we carry on playing like we did today, then we will win again.”
Win again he might, but Wolfsburg are just four points off the relegation zone and McClaren is running out of time. The storm clouds are circling:
- McClaren’s best player, last year’s Bundesliga top scorer Edin Dzeko, is being tipped to walk out on Wolfsburg. His agents watched last week’s Manchester derby and visited City’s facilities.
- German journalists have latched on to McClaren’s constant tactical alterations, with the side switching to and from a 4-2-3-1 formation.
- Player frustration boiled over before the Schalke match when club record buy Diego had a training ground punch up with Sascha Riether. The 15 million euro Brazilian started the incident, according to German press reports, but it was Riether who found himself left off the teamsheet against Schalke.
- Wolfsburg’s defence is brittle. The Wolves have conceded 21 goals in 12 matches and are the only Bundesliga side to have lost a match after leading 3-0.
Wolfsburg broke with tradition when they hired McClaren. Apart from a trickle of Dutch coaches that venture over the border, German clubs sides are loath to appoint foreigners as coaches. True, Hungarian Pal Csernai and the late Branko Zebec of Croatia are legendary ”Ausländer,” but McClaren is the first Englishman to take charge of a Bundesliga side.
McClaren famously became the first Englishman to win a European league title for more than a decade at Twente, but his stay in Lower Saxony might not last more than a season.
It’s not that Wolfsburg are short of cash. Since winning their first league title in 2009, German magazine Kicker estimated that the club have splashed out 64 million euros on 11 players — largely thanks to the club’s backer, Volkswagen. Some flops like Obafemi Martins have been shipped out. But big money buys Simon Kjaer, Diego, Mario Mandzukic and Thomas Kahlenberg are still at the club and not delivering.
Worryingly for the coach, the car company was happy to speak to Kicker about the club’s plight.
”Bringing in new players is not on the agenda,” insisted Stephan Grühsem, club board member and spokesman for VW. ”We bought quality players at the start of the season and the situation is not good enough. We cannot see any progress. Volkswagen always strives to be on top. So must the team.”
Heavy weather, it seems, is heading McClaren’s way.
Deputy Head, Eurosport 2
Can McClaren turn around the Wolves’ fortunes? Watch their game at St. Pauli LIVE on Eurosport 2 North East Europe this Sunday (17:30). Don’t miss three other LIVE Bundesliga matches this weekend. The action kicks off on Saturday with leaders Dortmund at Freiburg (15:30). Bayern are looking to get back in the title mix and they visit Leverkusen (18:30). Our other Sunday match sees two struggles go head to head, Stuttgart v Cologne (15:30).