Former England managers plot course back to big time
McClaren and Eriksson eager to rebuild reputations in Championship, says Duncan White
In April 2006, at a supposedly secret location in Oxfordshire, an English FA group interviewed five candidates to replace Sven-Goran Eriksson as England manager. Having disagreed on Alan Curbishley and Martin O'Neill, and with Luiz Felipe Scolari having pulled out, they whittled it down to a straight choice between Steve McClaren and Sam Allardyce.
McClaren, of course, got the job but didn't get it right. Five years on, Allardyce (West Ham) and McClaren (Nottingham Forest) are back in direct competition not just with each other, but with Eriksson (Leicester City) too.
The contest between Eriksson and McClaren is especially spicy. McClaren was Eriksson's head coach at Euro 2004 and the World Cup in 2006 and they are well acquainted with each other's methods. While Forest traditionally view Derby County as their main rivals in the East Midlands, there is a healthy dose of antipathy reserved for Leicester; something that has been given an edge by Eriksson's free-spending of the club's Thai wealth.
Nobody in the Championship can compete with Leicester financially. They are owned by Vichai Raksriaksorn, who owns all the duty free stores at Thailand's airports and is estimated to be worth £110m. The ground has been renamed the King Power Stadium, after Raksriaksorn's company, and with lucrative sponsorship from Bangkok and the potential to increase the capacity to 42,000, this is a club gearing up for the Premier League.
While Eriksson's approach to the game is a touch old-fashioned, his organisational rigour clearly had a positive impact at Leicester last season. He arrived in October with the club in the relegation zone and he hauled them up to 10th by the end of the season.
With Eriksson's contract expiring at the end of the season, everything is being thrown at getting up this year. The Swede has brought in nine new players and the recruitment will continue -- he is after the Swiss midfielder Gelson Fernandes, Nicky Maynard of Bristol City and Birmingham City's Cameron Jerome.
Even Premier League clubs have been struggling to match the wages on offer.
Eriksson has already bought a new back five. Goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel has arrived for £1.2m from Leeds while, in John Pantsil and Paul Konchesky, he has bought two Premier League-class full-backs. Two new centre-backs have arrived: Sean St Ledger for £1.2m from Preston and the highly rated Matt Mills from Reading for £4.5m.
With Neil Danns, David Nugent, Lee Peltier and Michael Johnson also coming into a squad that already contained the dangerous attacking midfielder Andy King (16 goals last season) and Player of the Year Richie Wellens, Leicester are favourites for promotion.
Forest, though, will be pushing them hard, even if McClaren is finding it difficult to compete with Leicester in the market -- they lost out on Konchesky and are struggling to compete in the auction for Maynard.
Billy Davies, who had a fractious relationship with chairman Nigel Doughty, left at the end of last season after going out in the play-offs in consecutive campaigns. The Scot left behind the basis of a good squad but with six players having left, the lack of recruitment has been a worry.
McClaren has so far gone for what he knows, bringing in the experienced pair of Jonathan Greening, 32, and George Boateng, 35, who he managed at Middlesbrough. Dubliner Andy Reid has returned to the club where he started his career, but Forest need a striker and a winger.
Doughty, who made his fortune in the city and is estimated to be worth £130m, is trying to make Forest work as a sustainable business. McClaren, though, has made it public the squad needs investment and many fans are frustrated at what they perceive as a lack of ambition from Doughty. It doesn't help when, up the road, Sven is gleefully splashing around in a swimming pool of baht.
Eriksson has won Serie A with Lazio and twice taken England to the quarter-finals of the World Cup, while McClaren was Alex Ferguson's right-hand man when Manchester United won the Champions League in 1999.
Between them they have won major trophies in Sweden, Italy, Portugal, England and the Netherlands. Yet the arduous path to redeeming their reputations lies on a less glamorous road, one that winds from Millwall, through Doncaster to Hull and Middlesbrough. At the end of it, though, lies another shot at the big time. Telegraph
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