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Alarm bells sounding for Everton

Everton
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Rewind to Boxing Day 1963

Barclays Premier League
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By ESPN Staff

England experience in McClaren's favour

Steve McClaren, many would say, is a man in waiting.

The Yorkshireman, who turns 45 a month before the World Cup starts, is one of the prime contenders to replace Sven-Goran Eriksson when the Swede stands down after the World Cup.

He will sit alongside Eriksson on the England bench in Germany this summer and it is a job he covets, although one he believes lies a little further in the future.

To the powerbrokers at Soho Square he holds appeal, with services already rendered a major plus to his curriculum vitae.

But McClaren's decision to commit himself to a further four years at Middlesbrough earlier this season is a measure of his loyalty to chairman Steve Gibson, the man who gave him his first chance in management.

It is a relationship which has proved largely successful for the Teessiders, with McClaren stabilising a club with a reputation for yo-yoing between the top two divisions, picking up a first major trophy - the 2004 Carling Cup - and securing two successive seasons of European football, something Boro had never before achieved.

However, both men know that, should his country's call come, it would be hard for either to resist. Whether it will remains to be seen, and McClaren may need Boro's form to pick up considerably for the FA to consider him, after their recent slump towards the wrong end of the Barclays Premiership.

McClaren's affable public front disguises a huge ambition and a hunger to test himself at the highest level, perhaps qualities which attracted Sir Alex Ferguson when he appointed him as his number two.

He has made no secret of his desire one day to lead his country into battle, and although he is still busily acquiring all the knowledge and experience he can as he continues his own education in the game, he believes he has what it takes to make it at the highest level.

'I am very ambitious, but I've got to keep achieving at Middlesbrough to maybe get an opportunity later on in my career,' he said.

'It is flattering to be linked, but international football is so different to domestic football and I know that.

'I've been working with England for three or four years now. All that experience is useful. I achieved a lot at Manchester United. I always worked with the top players and I have come here and become the first man in 10 years to win a trophy.

'Those are the credentials I believe I have got.'

York-born McClaren enjoyed a modest playing career with Hull, Derby and Lincoln before joining Oxford, where he took the first steps on the coaching ladder in the club's youth set-up.

But it was under the hugely experienced Jim Smith at Derby that he cut his teeth, spending four years as assistant manager before replacing Brian Kidd as number two to Ferguson at Manchester United.

There he was catapulted into the limelight on a learning curve which has seen him lock horns with the best and come out on top.

He was at the Scot's side when United landed an unprecedented treble of Premiership, FA Cup and Champions League titles in 1999, and it was in November of the following year he was first asked to lend his blossoming talent to England following Kevin Keegan's departure.

He and Peter Taylor were in charge for a 1-0 friendly defeat by Italy in Turin, and the newly-appointed Eriksson, apart from a spell during which Ferguson barred him from working with England, has relied upon him ever since.

It was little wonder McClaren was linked with virtually every management job which came up as his stock rose sharply, but it was Gibson, who allowed him to return to the international fold, who persuaded him to commit his future to Teesside in June 2001.

There are still some sections of the club's support which have not taken to their manager - although a recent poll carried out by the club's website saw almost half of respondents vote him the best manager in their history - but his achievements are undeniable.

Not one of his predecessors won a major trophy, or brought European football to the banks of the Tees, and he has done both after implementing a five-year plan which has largely been carried out to the letter.

McClaren decided a pragmatic approach was needed to stabilise the club and, having made his side difficult to beat, then set about the task of making them interesting to watch, although that remains a work in progress.

He is meticulous in his preparation and has shown he is not afraid to give youth its chance as the likes of Stewart Downing, Tony McMahon, James Morrison and Matthew Bates have emerged from Boro's academy to establish themselves as genuine first-team players.

The most frequent criticism of him as a coach is he appears to lack passion on the sidelines - a charge levelled with even more vehemence at Eriksson - although he insists that could not be further from the truth.

'I am so emotional, so passionate, but I do bottle it up and it does come out in private, as the team will testify and definitely my staff will,' he said.

'I remember [a match] at Notts County - I had to pay for a door. I opened it a little bit quicker than I should have done, and closed it a little bit quicker too.

'You are the man at the front and if you keep losing it, I do not think that is what a leader should do.'

With Eriksson's departure now agreed for the summer, McClaren may get a chance to put that theory to the test on the biggest of stages.