ENSCHEDE, Netherlands (Reuters) - Soccer coaches rank with tulips and cheese as a top Dutch export, yet few foreign managers have sought jobs in the home of total football.
Sacked former England manager Steve McClaren, who has taken over at FC Twente, is therefore a curiosity in the country with Twente fans wondering how long he will stick around and Dutch football sages debating what their country can teach him.
McClaren’s hopes of boosting his reputation back home by impressing with Champions League debutants Twente took a blow on Wednesday when Arsenal beat them 2-0 in the first leg of the third qualifying round.
However, the Dutch underdogs’ performance impressed the home crowd, always realistic in their expectations, and their attitude towards the English import is upbeat after an initial bout of skepticism.
On first hearing of the appointment one FC Twente fan had blogged: “It is pretty risky to go for an Englishman.”
“If it had to be a foreigner couldn’t it have been a German?” asked another — backing the suggestion that a coach from nearby Germany might suffer a little less culture shock.
Former Dutch international Pierre van Hooijdonk, who played in England and at home thinks younger British coaches such as McClaren can learn a lot from managing abroad, and help to dispel the somewhat negative reputation of their older peers.
“My experience of managers in England was not that positive. Unfortunately at Nottingham Forest I had two different managers whom I would call typical old-fashioned English managers,” he told Reuters by telephone.
Van Hooijdonk was coached by Dave Bassett and Ron Atkinson while at Nottingham Forest.
“There is not a good reputation for old-fashioned British coaches except for Bobby Robson, because of his personality. If you look around there are simply not that many of them abroad.
“With no disrespect they were more like socializers — hanging out with the lads. But now things have changed. I think Steve McClaren can do a good job.”
Van Hooijdonk praised his former manager at Celtic, Tommy Burns, who visited the Netherlands regularly to watch training sessions, particularly youth sessions, although he never permanently coached abroad.
“He was interested in the passion and succeeded really well in bringing some of that back.”
Sitting in the FC Twente bar for an interview, McClaren orders “English breakfast tea,” then requests some cold milk when the waitress returns with a steaming cup.
He does though venture a taste of a Dutch cream slice.
“I always wanted to work abroad, to experience different countries,” said the 47-year-old, who arrived in the eastern Dutch town of Enschede six weeks ago and has thrown himself into the job, looking to put his spell with England behind him.
“Holland has always been a respected football country in England. They produce good footballers and good coaches. I am only six weeks here but now I know why. You can see why Holland has a conveyer belt of talent.”
McClaren said former England manager Robson, who twice managed Dutch side PSV Eindhoven, had advised him to go to the Netherlands, telling him he would enjoy it.
Robson, however, went at a very different stage in his coaching career, first taking charge of PSV Eindhoven in 1990 after eight years of managing England and taking them to the semi-finals of the World Cup where they lost to Germany.
McClaren led England for just 16 months and was sacked after a defeat by Croatia prevented England qualifying for Euro 2008.
“That is in the past. I am not worried about my image. I know what I have done in the past and this is a new adventure for me,” McClaren said.
“I am not proving anything. Although maybe I am proving to myself I am one of those coaches who can travel abroad.”
His new home is Enschede, a smallish, somewhat moribund town 90 minutes drive from Amsterdam and a stone’s throw from the German border.
“I am trying to learn Dutch but my priority is learning the football,” McClaren smiled.
“I have put a lot of pressure on myself coming here. For me it is no different managing FC Twente to managing England or to managing Middlesbrough, there is always pressure. And everyone is always looking at you to deliver results.”
Additional reporting by Theo Ruizenaar, Editing by Clare Fallon