Manchester United

Steve McClaren: Erik ten Hag relationship, previous jobs, Man Utd history

Jamie Spencer
Steve McClaren is set to return to Man Utd as an assistant coach 21 years after his first spell
Steve McClaren is set to return to Man Utd as an assistant coach 21 years after his first spell / James Gill - Danehouse/GettyImages
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New incoming Manchester United manager Erik ten Hag will bring Steve McClaren back to the club as one of his first acts in charge at Old Trafford.

The Dutchman will bring Ajax assistant Mitchell van de Gaag with him from Amsterdam, but also wanted to have someone alongside him who already knows United – and McClaren is a perfect fit.

McClaren was famously assistant manager to Sir Alex Ferguson from 1999 until 2001, a hugely concentrated period of success in the club’s modern history that yielded three Premier League titles, the FA Cup and Champions League – the latter two as part of the historic treble.

Yet over the last 15 years, McClaren has had to work hard to rebuild his reputation in his home country, having seen it destroyed when, as England manager, he failed to deliver qualification for Euro 2008. He was crucified by the British press as ‘the wally with the brolly’, referencing him holding an umbrella in the pouring rain as the Three Lions fell to Croatia in the decisive game.

McClaren was later the butt of jokes back home when an interview during his time working in Netherlands went viral because of his odd faux Dutch accent. More recently, he has had a woeful spell at Newcastle and failed to meet his brief during two spells as Derby boss.


Steve McClaren’s Man Utd history

"He's up there with the best in coaching terms."

Jim Smith, 2006

McClaren’s first spell at United began in February 1999 when he was appointed as Brian Kidd’s assistant manager in Ferguson’s coaching team – long-serving assistant Kidd had left at the end of 1998 to pursue an ill-fated management career with Blackburn.

The young coach, only 37 at the time, was hardly known. It remains a famous story that he was mistakenly first introduced to the media as ‘Steve McClaridge’. But his impact was significant and he was ahead of his time, specifically opening Ferguson’s eyes to the value of sports psychology.

Within a few months, McClaren had helped United win an historic treble. The following season the club set new Premier League records for points and goals, and in 2000/01 won a third consecutive title, only the fourth time in English football history it had ever been done, in record quick time.

McClaren was hailed as a tactically astute and intelligent coach. When he left Old Trafford in 2001, he was seen as one of the bright young coaching talents in English football.

“He's a very talented coach and very good at man management. He knows what the best footballers are all about and gains their respect,” former mentor Jim Smith told BBC Sport in 2006. “He's up there with the best in coaching terms, his knowledge of the game and the mentality aspect.”


Steve McClaren’s previous jobs

The former midfielder, whose modest playing career had been spent at Hull, Derby, Bristol City and Oxford from the late 1970s through to the early 1990s, began his coaching career at Oxford soon after injury forced his retirement at the age of just 31.

McClaren was a youth coach and then reserve team manager at Oxford. But he was given a chance to work at a higher level in 1995 when Jim Smith hired him as a first-team coach at Derby. He played an important role as the Rams secured promotion to the Premier League the following year and then became re-established in the top flight over the next few.

Having then worked at Old Trafford under Ferguson from early 1999 until the summer of 2001, McClaren sought to spread his wings and become a manager himself. That opportunity came to him at Middlesbrough, taking the club to unprecedented heights.

Boro consolidated a place in the Premier League, but McClaren’s greatest success came in cup competitions. A League Cup success in 2004 was the club’s first ever major trophy, while the run to the 2006 UEFA Cup final remains the stuff of legend in Teesside footballing folklore.

McClaren had also worked as an assistant coach to Sven Goran Eriksson in the England setup on and off since 2001. When the Swede stepped down in 2006, the job was first offered to Luiz Felipe Scolari, who turned it down, and then to McClaren.

Sadly, his failure to reach Euro 2008 and subsequent dismissal has tainted his legacy ever since.

McClaren next headed abroad, joining FC Twente. The club finished second in the Eredivisie in his first season and went on to win the title – their first ever – in the next. Despite his triumph, McClaren then joined Wolfsburg, becoming the first Englishman to manage a top flight club in Germany. But his stay was only short and lasted just nine months due to poor results.

A high profile spell at Nottingham Forest in 2011 was even briefer, before returning to Twente in early 2012. Unable to replicate the success of his first spell, McClaren resigned after 13 months. Two spells as Derby manager, neither of which resulted in promotion back to the Premier League as hoped, then came either side of a disastrous period at Newcastle, which resulted in him getting sacked two months before the Magpies were relegated.

Five months at Maccabi Tel Aviv and 11 months at QPR followed between 2017 and 2019. A return to Derby came in 2020, this time as technical director, but McClaren resigned when the financially troubled club entered administration in the autumn of 2021.


Listen now to 90min's Manchester United podcast, The Promised Land, with Scott Saunders& Rob Blanchette. On this week's show they discuss Erik ten Hag’s appointment as new permanent manager, as well as the reaction from Mauricio Pochettino & Donny van de Beek.


Steve McClaren’s relationship with Erik ten Hag

McClaren is known to Erik ten Hag from his successful first spell with Twente.

Ten Hag was already at the club when McClaren arrived in Enschede. He had finished his own playing career there in 2002, but remained to begin a coaching career that started when he was immediately handed control of the club’s Under-17 squad.

Ten Hag was promoted to the role of Under-19 boss and in 2006 became first-team assistant coach to Fred Rutten, a job which he still had when McClaren took over as head coach in 2008.

Ultimately, they spent only one season together, with Ten Hag moving on to reunite with Rutten at PSV Eindhoven in 2009 – and therefore missing Twente’s Eredivisie championship – but it was clearly a period that left a mark on both men.

McClaren only recently spoke about his admiration for Ten Hag’s tactical game management and football intelligence during an interview on YouTube channel McClaren Performance, even likening the Dutchman’s style to a certain Sir Alex Ferguson.

“Everyone can prepare, work hard and have a plan, but when you kick-off, that plan can go out of the window sometimes. Opponents are different, they change the way they play or their style,” McClaren explained as he reflected on his season working with Ten Hag.

“Often I'd say, ‘What do we do now, Erik?’ He'd say drop the ‘number’ 10 to the ‘number six’, etc, and we'd be okay. I'd do that and the game would change. I'll always remember, if we weren't controlling the game, he'd say for us to go man to man.

“His tactical nous, his reading of the game, his adjustments were second to none.

“The best was Sir Alex. I'd say what are we going to do gaffer? It always worked, it. I'd sometimes say to Erik, ‘That's illogical’, but it didn't matter, it will work. [Ferguson] was the same.”


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