Recently I was considering switching jobs, I found myself in the very privileged position of being courted by a much bigger company than my current employer. I had met my prospective employer and had a chat around what I had accomplished to date and how we might work together in the future. They liked my ideas and made me a very good offer. So I had to debate with myself on the pros and cons around switching jobs and decided to stay in my current role as I was in the process of building a good team and had great hopes for the future. So this is all very self centred and how does Steve McClaren figure in this situation? Well as we all know Steve has also transitioned in his employment this week, essentially transitioning from being employed to not being employed. It’s a tough break and one I can empathise with but I found myself going back and reviewing Steve’s CV this week and thinking to myself “How the hell did he get the job in the first place?”
In management theory there is a concept known as The Peter Principle where a person in a job gets promoted to a level at which they cannot do the job, like a good baker who gets promoted to managing the entire bakery and now has to handle human resource issues, accounts and other areas of the business. None of which he had to handle when he was making a mean poppyseed loaf.
Applying this theory to football sees us explaining the age old conundrum of why good coaches do not make good managers. The list is a long one from Ray Harford taking over from Kenny Dalglish at Blackburn’s Premier League winning side to Brian Kidd also taking over the same team after being Sir Alex’s number 2 at Old Trafford. Ferguson famously repaid Kidd’s loyalty by being the team that sent Blackburn down to the Championship, coldly stating “Oh I wasn’t aware that we did that”.
So how does the Peter Principle apply in the case of McClaren? Well it seems that McClaren is the living embodiment of it in modern football. McClaren rose to prominence as assistant manager to Jim Smith at Derby County with whom he guided to the Premier League. Such was his reputation as an assistant manager he was sought out by Ferguson who was in need of a managerial aid at the time.
He was known for his forward thinking at the time and use of new methodologies such as video analysis and sports psychology. United would go on to win nearly every league that they contested with Steve at Sir Alex’s side. He was invited to join the England coaching staff and life could not have been much sweeter.
McClaren made the step up to management in 2001 at Middlesboro and remained there for five years, winning the League Cup in 2004 with a side that was often referred to as dull and functional and that relied heavily on the on field leadership of more experienced players. When England came knocking in May of 2006 Steve could not really turn down a promotion like that off he went to Wembley to lead the team to…nowhere.
A disastrous qualifying campaign for Euro 2008 culminated in him being labelled ‘the wally with the brolly’ after a rain sodden November night against Croatia who beat England 3-2 and eliminated them from the campaign. It was the first time in 24 years that England had not qualified for the European Championships. His England tenure was noted for his matey approach with the players and an overall lack authority that some maintain lost him what little respect he had in the first place. And so we can see he had been promoted to a level of incompetence.
Ever the innovator McClaren headed for the lowlands of Holland to take over an unfashionable Twente side and promptly lead them to their first ever Dutch title, losing just three games over the entire season and fending off a mighty challenge from the powerhouse of Ajax to claim the title by a single point. He was awarded Manager of the Season and ideally should have stayed at Twente to lead them through the Champions League however Steve had grander plans and set off for the German factory city of Wolfsburg, a team powered by Volkswagen. He was the first English manager in German football and was soon sent packing, possibly in a Passat or a Golf, we’ll never know.
A 13 game stint at Nottingham Forrest yielded just 3 wins and it appeared that the Championship was a league above his abilities as a manager. He returned to Twente but that failed to work out either and soon rocked up at Derby County nearly 20 years after being Jim Smith’s assistant.
Given the resources and Premier League outcasts he had at his disposal it is no wonder his win ratio as Derby manager stands at an impressive 53% however it was their capitulation last season that saw them fall from leading to Championship to finishing just outside the playoffs that caused the axe to swing on McClaren.
Somewhat stunningly, Newcastle and their forward thinking senior management felt that McClaren was indeed the man to lead the club out of the mire that they found themselves in after the tenure of another promoted number 2, John Carver. As has been evident from the results this season McClaren found himself promoted to a level of his own incompetence and thus proving the Peter Principle correct once again.