I’M DRIV TO REWA PRIDE AN PAS­SION OUR FAN

Ex­clu­sive in­ter­view with Steve

The Football League Paper - - CHAMPIONSHIP -

STEVE McClaren is en­joy­ing the com­forts of home. After all, where bet­ter than as man­ager of Derby County – the club where he has spent more years of his life in foot­ball than any­where else – could he main­tain the resur­gence of a ca­reer that slumped to a de­bil­i­tat­ing nadir just seven years ago on a stormy night at Wem­b­ley?

Who bet­ter to share the good times with than fans who have never for­got­ten the suc­cess he helped to bring them dur­ing his last as­so­ci­a­tion with the Rams just be­fore the turn of the cen­tury?

Jim Smith, his one-time men­tor and boss at Pride Park, be­lieves McClaren was ful­fill­ing his des­tiny when his for­mer as­sis­tant took charge 14 months ago.

“I al­ways thought he would suc­ceed me – and he would have done if Sir Alex Fer­gu­son hadn’t recog­nised the qual­i­ties I had seen in him,” he re­mem­bered.

Bless­ing

“When he told me he was go­ing back I was pleased for him be­cause I think he and Derby are made for one another. Now I re­ally be­lieve he can achieve what he helped to do when he was my as­sis­tant, and that is get them back into the Premier League.”

That looked almost a for­mal­ity last May un­til the Rams had pro­mo­tion hi-jacked from un­der their feet by Queen’s Park Rangers in the Cham­pi­onship play-off fi­nal at Wem­b­ley. And, if it was a kick in the teeth at the time, look­ing back McClaren re­gards it as a bless­ing in dis­guise.

“I hon­estly thought with 20 min­utes to go, against ten men, even look­ing at ex­tra-time, this team can do it,” says McClaren. “It was more of a huge shock than any­thing that they’d ac­tu­ally got near our goal and scored.

“I said at the time ob­vi­ously we weren’t ready to go up oth­er­wise we would have done. I felt sorry for the sup­port­ers and for the play­ers. But we dusted our­selves down, we talked about it the next day.We had a few weeks off and came back in pre-sea­son with a kind of more ma­ture men­tal­ity.

“I hoped that ex­pe­ri­ence would toughen them up so that, next time we do get an op­por­tu­nity, they would be able to take it.”

That was then; this is now. McClaren will not coun­te­nance sim­i­lar dis­ap­point­ment next time around with such grace. Pro­mo­tion and Premier League con­sol­i­da­tion are the ul­ti­mate end prod­ucts of a care­fully con­ceived three-year blue­print, drawn up on the day he took charge.

Chal­lenge

“Our strat­egy was…first let’s build a Cham­pi­onship team; within that can we build a team that doesn’t need much change, and then have we got the re­sources to add to stay there? That’s the chal­lenge,” he ex­plained.

“The first stage we nearly ac­com­plished last sea­son. We’ve had to start again.With more tough­ness and ma­tu­rity we want to be up there again and also build for the fu­ture.

“The club is re­ally grow­ing; academy wise; fa­cil­i­ties wise. The peo­ple be­hind the club have got re­ally big plans for Derby County. And the support is there, the fans are ab­so­lutely un­be­liev­able.” McClaren is quick and ea­ger to spurn to­tal re­spon­si­bil­ity for the rise of the Rams dur­ing his stew­ard­ship. Credit is lib­er­ally dis­pensed with sacked pre­de­ces­sor Nigel Clough a no­table re­cip­i­ent.

“I was so lucky go­ing in, lucky that Nigel had done a great job build­ing the squad and putting the club on a sound fi­nan­cial foot­ing,” he de­clared. “I knew the play­ers were good, I knew the team was good, I knew it had po­ten­tial. Ev­ery­thing was there and it didn’t need a lot of tin- ker­ing. I didn’t have to build a lot – it was there.We added a cou­ple of play­ers.

“The club has a tremen­dous CEO in Sam Rush who had the courage to make the change when he did. He had a vi­sion for what he wanted .

“We wanted to pro­duce good foot­ball. Our main goal was about per­for­mance. Could we play ex­cit­ing at­tack­ing foot­ball in the Cham­pi­onship? Could we be­come con­sis­tent week in, week out? I felt if we did, re­sults would follow. That was our short-term aim and, credit to the play­ers, they started do­ing that from day one. They have been fan­tas­tic.”

But his spe­cial praise for back-room pair Paul Simp­son and Eric Steele, was also a vin­di­ca­tion of his decision to re­cruit the two for­mer Derby play­ers as his right-hand men.

Hic­cups

“That’s been the mes­sage that we’ve wanted to get over to the fans – that it’s Derby peo­ple tak­ing over their club. I couldn’t have done it with­out Paul and Eric. No way.”

Bat­tling their way to the Cham­pi­onship’s top spot has not been with­out its ma­jor hic­cups – like the re­cent de­feat at Leeds fol­low­ing on from losses against Brent­ford and Wi­gan.

Such re­sults, McClaren cites, typ­ify the all-round strength of league ri­vals rather than his own team’s weak­nesses. “I’ve got to say the Cham­pi­onship is tougher this year than last and it’s not sur- pris­ing only fo never p League to obta sis­tenc other their te one has qual­ity im­prov

“The al­ways very di much a now a l

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