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Tuesday, 12 June, 2001, 09:43 GMT 10:43 UK
Steve McClaren in focus
Steve McClaren
McClaren now has to emerge from Ferguson's shadow
By BBC Sport Online's Andrew Warshaw.

Seven years ago, as youth team coach at Oxford United, Steve McClaren once got off the team bus to help change a wheel.

Little could he have known at the time that the wheel of fortune would rotate so quickly that he would go on to become one of the most sought-after coaches in the country.

Not that McClaren lacked ambition.

As the archetypal thinking man's coach, he swiftly proved, in a variety of high-profile jobs, that a mediocre playing career was no hindrance to being a successful coach.

He was in his late 20s when he gave up playing after nomadic stints at Hull City, Derby, Lincoln and Bristol City.

Peter Taylor and Steve McClaren discuss tactics during an England training camp
McClaren's input to the England camp has been well received
It was at Oxford where his coaching skills first came to light, but only when he got to Derby as Jim Smith's assistant did he really begin to flourish.

Manchester United quickly noticed his emerging talents and when Brian Kidd quit they wasted no time in bringing him to Old Trafford as Alex Ferguson's number two.

Even then, he was so unknown that United chairman Martin Edwards introduced him to the media as Steve McClaridge.

Within a year of working under Ferguson, however, McClaren had not only helped United cement their domination of English football but had become part of the national set-up in the brief post-Keegan era.

When Sven Goran Eriksson took over as England manager, the Swede liked what he saw and kept McClaren on, only for Ferguson to put his foot down.

Now, with Ferguson's own future at Old Trafford increasingly uncertain, McClaren too has decided to quit.

The realisation that he is down the pecking order to become Ferguson's successor has led him to take up the managerial helm at Middlesbrough.

He was very influential in helping out Sven, Tord Grip and Peter Taylor
  England defender Chris Powell

As a result, the Riverside club will be employing the services of one of the most tactically astute football brains in the country.

At Derby, he introduced Smith to the benefits of video anaylsis and apparently managed to persuade the traditionalist Ferguson to take on a sports psychologist.

"The best coaches," he was quoted as saying a few months ago, "get inside players' heads."

Charlton and England defender Chris Powell said everyone in the international set-up were impressed with McClaren during his seven months' involvement.

"He did ever so well with us and knew exactly what he wanted," said Powell. "He was very influential in helping out Sven, Tord Grip and Peter Taylor."

But can he make the transition from one of the most accomplished coaches in the country to a manager in his own right?

McClaren has a good rapport with players
"He knows exactly what he wants", says England defender Chris Powell

That is now the key question.

While the experience of working under a combination of Smith, Ferguson and Eriksson would stand any manager in good stead, McClaren has yet to prove he can do it on his own.

There is vast difference between helping a player improve and having to discipline him.

Can he provide that crucial link between the players and the boardroom? Does he have the substance to go with the hype?

McClaren's time is clearly now. Life really could begin at 40.

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