New Derby County boss Steve McClaren walked away from English football after the disappointment of failing to qualify for Euro 2008 as national team manager. But his time with Twente in Holland saw him turn things around and win the Eredivisie title in his second season at the club. With a spell in the Bundesliga with Wolfsburg and a second stint at Twente, McClaren gained valuable experience of life as a top-level manager in Europe. Earlier in 2013, Adam Bate caught up with the man who is now in the Pride Park hot-seat to discuss those experiences.
You made the move to Twente in 2008. Did it feel like a big decision to go abroad or was it something you were always open to?
It was something I was always open to. The opportunity came up in the Dutch league. I'd had a good relationship with Sir Bobby Robson who had obviously coached abroad. When I spoke with him he told me his experiences in Portugal, Holland and Spain had been fantastic, making him a better person and a better coach because of the knowledge and experience he'd gained.
This kind of whetted my appetite that there was more than just football in England and on this island. So I had the opportunity to go to Twente. At that time, this was a small, provincial club that had big ideas and a big vision of challenging the big boys in Holland.
I remember going there and many people questioning that decision and questioning the club. But once I went over and met the people at the club, met the president and saw the plans they had for the stadium and the team I thought it was a great challenge. I had no hesitation when I went over that I wanted to do it.
You've spoken of how the first six months can be tough. Why is that? Adapting to a new culture?
Yeah, you can be set in your ways of working. You have ideas of what works and what doesn't. I went in there and I was very lucky because I had good staff. My assistant was great on the very first day I was there. I said to him that I was ready for training and asked him what we were going to do. He produced a folder with files outlining training for the next six weeks.
Every minute was detailed, every session was detailed. He pointed out where I could do my work, where we could do team play and where we could do set plays. I thought it was unbelievable. It was manna from heaven for me. I knew exactly what I was doing so just had to get on with it.
That gave me an opportunity to sit back, let them get on with the work and observe for about six weeks. That six weeks of observing, watching and learning their culture was very important. I got to learn what Dutch football was all about, what Twente were all about and what the Eredivisie was all about, because all leagues are different.
About 80 per cent or 90 per cent of what they did was fantastic so I though, right, we'll keep that. The only thing I could add was my 10 per cent of knowledge and experience of international top-level football and how to win football matches. That's what I did. It was a marriage that worked very well the first time I was there.
We often focus on what foreign - especially Dutch - coaches can bring to the British game and yet you and Sir Bobby Robson both won titles there. What can British coaches take to the foreign game?
We are well respected in this country for our work ethic, for our never-say-die attitude and for our fight, aggression and power in the way we play the game. The thing that surprised me is that English coaches do not have a good reputation abroad. That's probably why not many go abroad.
One of the stats that shocked me was that around the world there are over 100 Dutch coaches but there are only a handful of English coaches working around the world. There is a certain way of working, a certain way of educating coaches in Holland that works for them and works for football.
That summed up the feeling they had overseas for English coaches. For me the aim was to go out there and buck the trend by taking on this challenge to prove people wrong.
In terms of coaching the Dutch players, was there a different mentality to deal with?
Yeah it's all down to education. It's about teaching. And that's from a very young age. That's the Twente principle and that's the Dutch principle. It's where I actually learned the intelligence side of the game - what we call football intelligence. They teach young players at eight or nine years old how to solve problems on the field for themselves.
I remember one young lad I had who was a 21-year-old. We wanted to teach him a bit of tactics and a bit of formation work ahead of a game. He spent 20 minutes talking through what he would do against this team. It was in such an intelligent way and exactly what we'd been talking about.
I told him that his presentation was unbelievable and that no English player I know could've done that. I asked him where he'd picked that up from. He explained that he'd been doing this kind of tactical work and intelligence work since he was about 11 years old. That's the difference between the two cultures.
My favourite expression about the Dutch is that when you say what you're going to do today, they say, 'Yes, coach, but'. And there was always a 'but'. They would do anything for you but only as long as you could answer the 'but' clearly in their language.
You had a successful first season and then an historic second year for both Twente and you. That must have been particularly satisfying and perhaps the highlight of your career - winning a league abroad?
I was fortunate to win things with Manchester United as an assistant and then to be involved with England. I won that first trophy at Middlesbrough and then was lucky enough to get to a UEFA Cup final there. But I always thought the true measure of a coach is managing the season.
I'd seen a team win a league at Manchester United and I wanted to do it myself. To do it in Holland especially was fantastic. To go through a 34-game programme, ending with the title, was exactly what I wanted to achieve and one of the main goals of my career.
You've spoken in the past about Sir Alex Ferguson managing a season to peak at the right time - those experiences must have helped at Twente as you came under immense pressure from Ajax?
We did come under pressure as we won it by one point. They kept going and they kept sneaking up on us but we kept our nerve. You're quite right, it's about planning the season and making sure that in the last five games you've got energy, attitude and all your players are fit. We managed to hold on.
You then moved to Wolfsburg. What were the differences between Germany and Holland?
The set-up was different. We had a general manager and that was the first time I'd had that. His name was Dieter Hoeness and he was very influential in German football and at the football club. It was a case of adapting again. That was the main thing - adapting to the German league because it was totally different to the Dutch league.
Adapting to the culture was a challenge too. It was a German culture which is a very disciplined culture. While the Dutch would say 'yes but' the Germans were different. If you asked them to run through a brick wall they would say 'OK, we'll do it and we'll do it quicker than anyone else'. They were very efficient and it was a case of adapting to that.
There was also the language to deal with. In Holland, everyone spoke in English. In Germany, they wanted me from day one to speak German. So that was interesting and very difficult. They wanted me to do team-talks in German and the press in German so I said that would take me over six months to adapt to.
Those first six months were very tough. But we came back after the winter break and I felt it was a turning point in terms of adapting to German culture and the German league - and it was a fantastic league with great players and amazing crowds. The only thing I couldn't adapt to was working with a general manager and that was as much my fault as it was the general manager's fault.
In England, the manager is in charge of roughly everything in terms of what he wants to do and who he wants to sign. In Holland, I was the trainer and the technical director so I had that responsibility as well. But in Germany I had that general manager in the middle and I'm afraid I didn't adapt to that very well. In the end, that was my downfall.
You later returned to Twente but it wasn't so successful second time around...
Even when I went back we were joint-top at Christmas and at the end of January we were second so I felt I was doing the job there. But it wasn't good enough for the supporters and the board so they had to change. So I don't see my second spell as a failure either. It was just unfinished.
You're back in England now but once you show you're willing to travel I'd imagine it opens up a world of opportunities?
It is strange. A lot of people have talked about coming back to England and proving a point. I suppose when I think about it I have probably got a better reputation in Europe than I do in England. That's because we took Twente into the top 10 in Europe in terms of games won and things achieved from such small beginnings.
So with my years in Germany and at Twente my reputation in Germany is probably better than in England. That needs realigning. It's always the stigma as an England manager who leaves the job. It's always difficult. But the future is open to me at the present moment, whether I go back into management or I start to give something back to the game at the elite end.
Do you think British coaches miss out by not being willing to go abroad or is it that the opportunities aren't there for them?
I don't think the opportunities are there. They look elsewhere. The one thing I've always said, whether it's now or in the future, is that that I'd like to give something back to the game. After all the experiences I've had, rather than waste them, it would be good to try and feed that back to the young coaches of this country. To explain what I've picked up from my time abroad.
And presumably you'd recommend those experiences?
Oh, most definitely and without a shadow of a doubt. Everyone should try it. It's not easy and sometimes you don't succeed but I would recommend it to any coach or any player to move abroad. If you get the right club it's a great experience.