Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Rattled Mcclaren

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Rattled Mcclaren

Article excerpt

Byline: MICHAEL HART

HAD Steve McClaren arrived in Holland expecting life to be all tulips, windmills and clogs, he was given a rude awakening last night.

The England coach was shocked by the bumpy ride he was given by the media in a country famous for its flat plains - but could he seriously have expected anything else after the debacle in Croatia last month?

McClaren might have thought his only problems before tonight's friendly against the Dutch in Amsterdam were how to accommodate the fit-again Joe Cole into his team. But he will now have to address a whole raft of other issues should his team fail to gel again, especially as the much-vaunted 3-5-2 we saw in Zagreb is set to evolve into a more compact 4-3-3 tonight.

The left side of midfield has haunted England managers for years but the questions that made McClaren sweat and fidget came more out of left field.

McClaren is in the unusual position of having a No2 in Terry Venables who writes his own Sunday newspaper column-And it was in that column that Venables claimed the first left midfielder of McClaren's reign, Stewart Downing, had been omitted from the 2-0 defeat by Croatia because he was unable to handle some of the stick aimed in his direction.

Not so, said McClaren, it was down to tactical reasons and, anyway, the article was not a problem because he had not even read it.

McClaren must have known that there was a danger in having an assistant who was more of a high-profile figure than he was but the England coach was still shocked at the level of questioning about the defeat in Croatia - a match that he wanted to confine to history.

"Why are you trying to separate the players and myself, or even the staff ?"

he moaned. "That's ridiculous.

"It's a private matter between myself and Stewart Downing. We've drawn a line under it. He knows me and I know him."

What McClaren must know is that if there is not an improvement here in the Amsterdam Arena, the level of probing will increase.

So he will be hoping that Joe Cole, after just a handful of cameo appearances for Chelsea this season, can restore the nation's faith in the heart of the team.

Cole, who played in all five World Cup games in Germany in the summer, has had precious little playing time since recovering from a knee ligament injury but McClaren is convinced that he has the skill - and fitness - to challenge the technically superior Dutch.The midfielder will be helped by playing in the same position on the left of a front three that he does for his club Chelsea. "It's blend and balance in midfield that we're searching for," said McClaren when he explained why he had included Tottenham's Aaron Lennon in the original squad for this match.

The flying winger would have played to the right of Wayne Rooney - the central striker - but injury has handed that role to Everton's Andy Johnson with Frank Lampard, Michael Carrick and Steven Gerrard forming a tight three in midfield. …

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