Steve's abysmal mistakes

The trouble with England is Steve McClaren. And the trouble with McClaren, you might say, is Brian Barwick. The dim Chief Executive of the Football Association, largely responsible for making McClaren the England team manager. I suppose you can say for Barwick, once a successful television sports executive, where he should surely have stayed, that he isn't as economically disastrous as one predecessor, Adam Crozier, or as disastrous as the other, Mark Palios.

Crozier, who was proved to have doctored his results as an advertising executive at the Daily Telegraph but got the FA role just the same, expensively and without full authorisation, moved the FA offices from Lancaster Gate in West London, where they had been for decades, to Soho Square, in the heart of the West End, and, sacking numerous solid old retainers, filled the FA offices with marketing dolly birds, on $ 80,000 a year.

Palios, you may remember, or want to forget, was the man chiefly responsible for giving the egregious Sven-Goran Eriksson a bonus — a disloyalty bonus? — after he had been caught cosying up to Chelsea for a second time. Plus extending the Swede's contract to 2008 so that he is still drawing his �5 million a year salary, for doing absolutely nothing. Which, come to think of, is more or less what he did at the World Cup. Palios then tried to betray Eriksson, when the squalid truth came out about their affairs with a secretary at the FA, Faria Alam. In vain, Palios, through the Chief Press Officer at the time, Colin Gibson, tried to persuade the News Of The World to keep him out of the frame at Eriksson's expense. Nice people.

Never for a moment could I see McClaren being an adequate England manager. Had he not worked all those years alongside Eriksson so he had, to a degree, to be tarred with the same brush? Barwick saw to his appointment, after he himself incompetently and abortively pursued Brazilian Big Phil Scolari, manager of Portugal, all over Europe.

The FA could have appointed Martin O'Neill, now doing such an impressive job at Aston Villa. I wouldn't have been at all averse had they gone for Steve Coppell, former England outside right, who has brought Reading at last up to the top division for the first time in their lengthy history. Steve is a bright button, has a degree in economics from Liverpool University and is infinitely brighter than McClaren. Who, and it beggars belief, was just about to go, before the Croatian debacle, on a so called fact finding mission to the Seattle Seahawks American gridiron team! What in the name of logic did the fellow expect to find out there? And would he have taken his tame psychologist with him?

McClaren even enrolled the ineffable publicist and scandal dealer Max Clifford, renowned for selling kiss and tell stories to the tabloid, first to get him out of trouble in his Middlesbrough managing days, after he had had (oh how predictable and boring!) an affair with his secretary then, via McClaren's sports agents, as an advisor to him in his England role. From which Clifford has just resigned, telling us how much McClaren is going to miss him!

However massive the entourage, it has not been sufficient to stop McClaren making abysmal, basic mistakes in his selection and tactics. Give him due credit for jettisoning David Beckham who for a long time had been like a ball and chain around the leg of the England team, with his one paced, one true talent (that elegant right foot) on the England right wing. Yet even when Beckham has gone McClaren was relegating the splendidly dynamic Spurs outside-right Aaron Lennon to a substitutes' role, while persisting on the left flank with his former prot�g� at Boro, Stewart Downing, who has shown neither the pace nor the skill to succeed at international level.

The goalless draw in Manchester against Macedonia was bad enough, England showing no spark in attack, not least, and this was hardly the fault of McClaren, in that the irreplaceable Wayne Rooney was still firing blanks. How ironic that, just three days later, playing at Wigan for Manchester United, Rooney should at last be in ebullient form again.

Playing Steven Gerrard — absent, suspended, in Zagreb — on the flank looked as ill judged as ever. Frustrated there, Gerrard roamed across the face of the attack, sometimes even duplicating Downing on the left. Some time or other, plainly, McClaren will have to grasp the bull by the horns, assuming he is still there to do it, and accept the fact that however often Lampard may be trumpeted by his Chelsea manager, Jose Mourinho, he is a liability at international level and inhibits the potential of Gerrard as a central midfielder.

But above all, McClaren's decision to resort in Zagreb to a 3-5-2 formation, which England hadn't played for many years past, was suicidal. Especially when he played it without wingers, plainly expecting his wing backs, ludicrously, to do that job. Ashley Cole, on a better day, might have done it. After all, he is always better going forward than defending, bar that superb last ditch intervention in the World Cup versus Ecuador. But to expect a winger's contribution from Gary Neville was rather like expecting the sun to set in the East.

Nor can McClaren find shelter in the misbegotten view that England "haven't got the players." Have Northern Ireland, who've just beaten Spain, or Scotland, who defeated France in Glassgow? As things stand, you wonder whether England can qualify for the eventual Euro finals. They are stuck with McClaren now.