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Schteve McLaren and The Dutch Football Revolution

 article about eredivisie
Have a look at the Eredivisie Table. It's now late October and yet there sits atop that league a team still unbeaten. In fact, there are only 2 teams in the Dutch Eredivisie who are still unbeaten. One of them is the mighty PSV Eindhoven, former European champions and considered, along with Ajax of Amsterdam, one of the powerhouses of Dutch Football.

And yet, they sit 2nd in the league, 2 points behind our unlikely heroes. Step forward FC Twente. Not heard of them? Well, maybe you have heard of their manager. Steve McLaren. Ring any bells? The former England Manager? Best remembered for standing under that infamous FA brolly as England were humiliated at Wembley by a very average Croatia side, meaning that for the first time in 14 years England had failed to qualify for a major tournament.

This may come as a shock to those England fans who still foam at the mouth at thought of that lost summer of 2008, but The Wally With The Brolly has moved on. Steve McLaren took over the reins at FC Twente on 20 June 2008 (halfway through the very tournament he was hoping to be at as manager of England) and hasn't looked back. In the previous season, FC Twente had managed to finish 4th and had qualified for the UEFA Champions League via the play-off system in place in the Eredivisie, beating Ajax 2-1 in the final. Unluckily for Steve and FC Twente, they ended up being drawn against Arsenal of the English Premier League, and their experience of the big game proved too much for little Twente who were overwhelmed 6 Ė 0 on aggregate.

McLaren knew that managing abroad was going to be a huge challenge for him. Before taking over at FC Twente, he had expressed an interest in managing an English Championship club and also publicly declared an interest in the vacant post at the helm of Blackburn Rovers. But Steve McLaren knew that the time was right to change. The time was right to start all over again.

FC Twente is not the first club that springs to mind when talking about Dutch football. From the small city of Enschede in the east of the Netherlands, their most notable feats to date include one Dutch League title in 1926 and two KNVB Cup wins in 1977 and 2001. Hardly Roy of the Rovers stuff is it? But what it offered Steve McLaren was a degree of anonymity that he wasn't going to get managing at any level of English Football. Even the FC Twente fans greeted his appointment with scepticism, here was someone who failed to take a so-called golden generation of English Footballers to Euro 2008, surely their little club would now only go backwards. But it simply wasn't the case. In his first season in charge, Steve McLaren led FC Twente to Champions League qualification once again. But this wasn't by virtue of the one-off cup tie atmosphere of the play-offs. FC Twente finished second, Again ahead of the supposed giants of Dutch football Ajax and PSV. They were also a penalty kick away from winning the KNVB Cup, but lost a shoot out to Heerenveen.

Their foray into the upper echelons of European football didn't last long, as they were dispatched in the second qualifying round by Sporting Lisbon, a team with far more European experience than McLaren's young side. UEFA loves a plucky loser though and FC Twente have now fallen into the newly created Europa League (UEFA Cup to us bread and butter supporters) where they are breaking pretty much even in a tricky group that includes Steaua Bucharest and Fenerbahce.

Steve McLaren has undergone a bit of a transformation in Footballing terms. Since taking over at FC Twente, there has only been one incident which stands out and has made headlines back home in England, when Steve gave an interview to Dutch Television during which he spoke with a hilarious Dutch accschent (Yesh, it was...how you say...ridiculoush), but give the guy a break. I'm sure we have all made complete fools of ourselves when trying to perfect the lingo of a foreign land, and McLaren claims that he did this to make himself better understood to the FC Twente fans watching whose English may not be very good. Now, i don't know about you but i think that is very considerate of him. Despite anything McLaren says, what happened to him in the aftermath of his failure as a national coach caused him a lot of anguish. Publically humiliated and vilified in the English media, he must have doubted his own abilities as a coach for a while, but rather than dwell on his experience, he decided to move on and accept a new challenge fairly quickly after leaving Soho square with his p45 and his brolly. He inherited a good young squad at FC Twente, but since has lost key players such as imposing left back Edson Braafheid to Bayern Munich and yet still so far this season there seems to be no holding them back. In eleven games this season, they have won nine and drawn two and seem to have a couple of consistent goal scorers in Blaise Nkofu, who since 2003 has now scored over 100 goals for Twente and new signing from Gent Bryan Ruiz who so far has hit 7 goals in 10 games for his new club.

So impressed are the powers that be with Steve McLaren and the progress he has brought to FC Twente that he has just signed a one year contract extension, keeping him at the De Grolsch Veste Stadion until 2011 at least. If they keep the current pace up, FC Twente will want to keep hold on Steve McLaren for as long as possible. After all, the last manager to leave the England job to go on to manage a Dutch club team was a certain Bobby Robson, and he did ok for himself didn't he?

The question now is whether FC Twente can keep up the pace and consistency required to remain at the top for what is going to be a long season for them. Ajax and PSV will be certainly be in the running for silverware come seasons end, and i am sure defending champions AZ Alkmaar will have something to say about the title race too. But i've got my fingers crossed for Steve McLaren and FC Twente. Together with AZ, they are the teams most likely to break up the Ajax/PSV duopoly and that can only be good for Dutch football. The nation that gave us Johan Cryuff can be proud of it's football again, and Steve McLaren can be proud of himself and the job he's doing making a little club from Enschede the centre of the Total Football Universe.


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