Steve McClaren

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Its half time in Englands European Championship qualifier against Andorra and an angry mob has gathered to abuse the underperforming, lifeless, England players. The majority of the venom however is directed at the manager. Its the lowest point yet in Steve McClarens brief tenure as England boss.

At the time of McClarens appointment, his predecessor, Sven Goran Erikksson said, I have no doubt that he has all the credentials to be very successful in the job and wish him all the best.”

Nine games later, there are online petitions calling for McClarens resignation, and he is being hounded by the media. The radio phone-ins are demanding theories from the sports psychology experts.

So how have things come so quickly to a crisis point and what, if anything, can Steve McClaren do about it?

Although some, like Walter Winterbottom of England or Andy Roxburgh of Scotland arrived via different routes, traditionally the role of international football manager was a reward after success in league management. Once knowledge had ripened into wisdom, a coach could be considered for higher office. International manager.

Clearly, the international arena was not a place for the newbie or the naif. Not a place to learn ones trade. The faces of the tried, trusted and tested international managers, Lippi, Hiddink, Bruckner, Scolari et al are etched with their deep, encyclopaedic knowledge of the game.

By the time he was ready for the step up into the international arena, the club manager had already achieved some mastery of the coaching craft. However, the appointments of Jurgen Klinsmann to Germany and Marco Van Basten to Holland paved the way for unproven managers to lead at international level.

Klinsmann had to suffer endless abuse and criticism of his style and methods before the validity of his ways was recognized, as his team excelled at World Cup 2006. His fresh and innovative thinking and extrovert style were the catalyst German football needed. He proved the bridge from apprentice to craftsman could be crossed with well developed personal leadership qualities and a strong support team.

A Defensive Psychology?…
Its a critical time in Steve McClarens leadership development journey. To offset the mounting criticism, he must guard against becoming too defensive and introspective. Developing a shield of immunity to deflect the heat, will simply increase the national focus on perceived personal weakness. A defensive psychology will continue to invite hostile media attack, and deepen the bunker mentality.

To move England forward, fresh, innovative, and flexible thinking is called for. But this is impossible if McClaren becomes hyper sensitive to media reactivity. When pressure and intensity builds, a manager can do two things.

One, to stick with the tried and tested; players and plans. Stay with whats known. Dont do anything too differently in case it all backfires. Its the cautious way. Overruling the instinct.

Or two, under pressure, come out fighting. Releasing himself from the shackles of fear and defensiveness. Liberating a personal sense of courage and daring. Utterly indifferent to the changing moods of the press. Defiant. This is a once in a lifetime moment and Im going to take it.

For that breakthrough to happen, will demand the recognition that the cautious, controlling way isnt working. Once Steve McClaren frees himself from the shadows of doubt, the players will be brought back to life. It thus becomes a self fulfilling prophecy, giving hope both to those you lead and those you represent.

The Sports Psychology Summary…
With English expectations at rock bottom, its the perfect opportunity for Steve McClaren to show that he is, at least, learning from his mistakes. People do not expect perfection from the national manager.

In fact we can empathise with frailties. However, even with integrity, weakness will never be misinterpreted as strength. The top quality people most look for and admire in a leader, someone whose direction they would willingly follow, is honesty. As a student of leadership in sport, Steve McClaren will know this. Time will tell whether he can rise to the challenge.