What in the world is a coaching consultant? Does Real Madrid have a coaching consultant? How about Manchester United? Wait, even Israeli champion Hapoel Beersheba doesn’t have one? Either Maccabi Tel Aviv has made some genius move that will start a new worldwide trend by hiring former England manager Steve McClaren as its new coaching consultant, or the yellow-and-blue is beginning to clutch at straws after losing its position as the local standard bearer.
It isn’t that McClaren isn’t qualified. In fact, there have been few, if any, coaches with a résumé as impressive as his that have worked in Israel.
He rose to prominence during two years as an assistant coach to Alex Ferguson at Manchester United between 1999-2001 and went on to enjoy a successful tenure at Middlesbrough, winning the League Cup in 2004 before also guiding the team to the UEFA Cup final. That earned him the role of England manager, setting in motion a downward spiral that has seemingly derailed his career for good. England failed to qualify for Euro 2008 under his guidance, the only major tournament it has missed since 1994, and he was soon sacked.
McClaren bounced back by guiding Twente to the Dutch championship in 2009/10, but has enjoyed little success since. He lasted less than a season at Bundesliga side Wolfsburg, left Nottingham Forest of the English Championship after just 10 matches and returned to Twente for a year before departing mid-season.
Back in England, he spent almost two full seasons at Derby County of the Championship before being sacked late in the 2014/15 season. He was hired that summer by Newcastle of the English Premier League, but didn’t survive until the end of the campaign, being relieved of his duties in March. McClaren returned to Derby two months into last season, but after a mere five months was dismissed in March of this year.
Even when considering his recent struggles, McClaren certainly has the credentials to be the coach of Maccabi Tel Aviv.
Just one problem there: Maccabi already has a coach. Jordi Cruyff made a move long-awaiting by many in the soccer world when he stepped down from the front office and his position as sports director to become the yellow-and-blue’s head coach this summer. After all he’s been through in his career as a player (not to mention being the son of the great Johan Cruyff), and with five years of experience as Maccabi’s sports director under his belt, surely Cruyff doesn’t need tutoring by McClaren?
And anyway, what is exactly McClaren’s job description? Is this a full-time job? Will he be living in Israel? Perhaps he will watch Maccabi games on TV and email Cruyff some tips? He was in the stands, notebook and all, for Sunday’s match against Beitar Jerusalem and surely had plenty to write about after Maccabi dropped to its biggest defeat in Premier League action in more than two years, losing 3-0 in Netanya. McClaren also took an active role in Monday’s training session, swapping his buttoned shirt for a training kit and spending much of the practice chatting with Jordi.
Cruyff was involved in McClaren’s hiring, but it is likely new CEO Ben Mansford, who arrived from England earlier this summer, who played a more active role in his pursuit, believing Maccabi required another professional authority after the job of sports director was canceled following Jordi’s move to the sidelines.
Owner Mitch Goldhar also believes in a well-structured front office and is probably hoping that McClaren will help attract bigger names to Maccabi’s squad.
Nick Blackman, a 27-year-old Manchester- born Jewish forward, may well not have joined the team on a one-year loan deal from Derby last week had he not been recruited by his former manager.
Another British player Maccabi is targeting is Welsh international Joe Ledley.
“Steve McClaren has a wealth of knowledge and is vastly experienced at the highest levels of European football,” said Goldhar.
“We are delighted to add a person of his caliber to our staff on a coaching consultant role as we are all sure he can contribute to Maccabi Tel Aviv’s coaching and playing staff.”
Cruyff will surely try to make the best of McClaren’s presence, but one has to wonder if Maccabi isn’t beginning to set up a backup plan should things not go so well under his guidance.
Maccabi has won seven straight Europa League qualifiers to begin the season, leaving it well placed to advance to the group stage on Thursday when it hosts Altach of Austria with a 1-0 lead from the first leg.
But the yellow-and-blue’s form in those victories was far from convincing, and Maccabi’s many frailties were exposed for all to see in Sunday’s emphatic defeat to Beitar.
Cruyff and McClaren go back to Jordi’s time under the Englishman at Manchester United. They certainly seemed friendly in Monday’s training session and McClaren’s statement following his signing seemed like a careful exercise in avoiding Cruyff’s toes.
“It’s a pleasure to start working with Jordi at his new role as coach at Maccabi from his previous one as sports director,” said McClaren, who was hired on a rolling month-by-month contract.
“I have known him since the time we spent together at Manchester United and we have been in touch over the past couple of years. I have huge respect for such a well-known club both in Israel and in Europe and I intend to help Jordi and the players achieve success for the fans this season.”
Who knows, this could perhaps be the start of a beautiful friendship and fruitful partnership from which Maccabi will greatly benefit. It could, of course, also be the beginning of the end for Jordi.
Maccabi must have felt that it had nothing to lose by bringing in McClaren. But instead, his arrival has added instability to a club that can scarcely afford it.
McClaren’s hiring feels like an act of desperation made by a club which is beginning to run out of ideas. A club that had gotten so used to dominating and is now struggling to come to terms with the loss of its local supremacy.