What next for Twente?

Steve McClaren raised their profile and led FC Twente to glory in Holland last season; so what’s the story?  IBWM’s Jeff Livingstone reports.

How we laughed.  That YouTube video; the one with Steve ‘for sure’ McClaren.  Hilarious.  Here he was, the broken man of English football banished for all eternity to the wastelands of mid table Eredivisie.  He had an England team full of superstars, and yet he couldn’t get them to the European Championships.  Pah!  How could any top coach not get the best out of Gerrard, Rooney et al?  Good job England had Don Fabio eh?

Here we are, two years later, questioning whether England players are actually good enough; while ‘the wally with the brolly’ has recently led provincial Dutch outfit Twente Enschede to their first Eredivisie title.  How things change.  You will have heard that Steve McClaren has recently moved on from Twente, taking the manager’s job at Bundesliga side Wolfsburg and IBWM will be looking at club and manager at a later date.  But what about Twente?

When Steve McClaren took the head coach role at Twente Enschede in the summer of 2008 it certainly raised eyebrows back in England.  Many had expected the former Middlesbrough manager to bide his time and find a job in the UK.  With his family still based in the North East of England, it seemed only a matter of time before a call came from Newcastle, Sunderland or Middlesbrough requesting McClaren’s services.  Or maybe the former England coach could pick things up at Hartlepool, Darlington or Blyth Spartans.  With no disrespect to any of those fantastic clubs, they now looked to be McClaren’s level, so low was his stock following a dismissal by England.

Despite warnings that he was about to fall off the map, McClaren did his research and listened to the ambitions of FC Twente chairman Joop Munsterman.  Clearly impressed with what Munsterman had to say, and with the set up at Twente, McClaren took the job and began a special relationship that has raised the profile of both club and manager.

FC Twente Enschede was founded in 1965 and is based in the town of Enschede in the Twente region of the Netherlands; well east of Amsterdam but close to the Dutch border with Germany.  The locals – referred to as Tukkers – have witnessed their team play a lengthy period in the top flight of Dutch football, with only cursory glances at success.  Proudest moments for the club consisted of a UEFA cup final appearance in 1975 – which Twente lost to Borussia Monchengladbach – and a two Dutch cup wins in 1977 and 2001.  The club moved into its new stadium, De Grolsche Veste in 1998, but very nearly ceased to exist in 2002 when mounting debts almost forced their collapse.

Dutch media magnate Munsterman took over at the club in 2004 and in the same year Twente were beaten finalists in the KNVB cup, the Dutch equivalent of the FA cup.  Gradually improving their league position each year was largely down to a well run academy and some astute training ground work put in by coach and former player, Fred Rutten.  With Rutten moving on to take the manager’s job at Schalke in 2008, Munsterman turned his attention to the disposed former England coach Steve McClaren.

If Twente had been punching above their weight under Rutten’s stewardship, then the first season under McClaren was nothing short of miraculous.  Commencing the season with a Champions League qualifier against Arsenal, Twente’s young side had lost heavily, but had not been embarrassed.  Their league campaign was impressive too, with a forward line consisting of young Austrian Marko Arnautovic, Swiss veteran Blaise N’Kufo and new Dutch starlet Eljero Elia scoring 37 goals between them as Twente again made the Champions League qualifiers.

McClaren was faced with realities of running a smaller club in the summer of 2009.  Ready to start his second season, the opportunity to move Twente forward was negated by the sale of Elia to Hamburg and the loan of Arnautovic to Inter Milan.  With two of the clubs best players gone, McClaren was forced to look elsewhere, and managed to pick up two youngsters from relatively humble backgrounds that were within months hailed as the players of the season.  In 2010, for the first time in their history, Twente were champions.

Costa Rican Bryan Ruiz Gonzales arrived from Belgian club AA Gent without a hugely prolific record, but fired 24 goals in 34 games to steer Twente to the title.  With N’Kufo containing to score regularly, Elia’s creativity was not missed due to the terrific form of on-loan Chelsea youngster Miroslav Stoch, who also weighed in with 10 strikes.  A 2-0 victory at NAC Breda on the final day of the season held off the advances of a Luis Suarez inspired Ajax and Twente captured their first league title.

But what next for Twente?  Without the need for a Champions League qualifier, the club now has a sizeable budget and scope to increase capacity at its excellent stadium; something that the ambitious club are keen to do.  But for all the positives, Twente will start the 2010-11 season without miracle worker McClaren who has since moved on to Wolfsburg.  Striker N’Kufo, an integral part of the Twente side for many years, has decided to see out his days as a player in the MLS with Seattle Sounders while Stoch returned to Chelsea before being sold on to Fenerbache.  Arnautovic has also now taken up permanent residence in the Bundesliga with Werder Bremen.

In addition to the recent departures, Bryan Ruiz is now attracting the attention of Europe’s top sides, with Liverpool heavily linked in recent days.  Twente will also do well to retain the services of Brazilian defender Douglas, another player with a bright future.

But that’s what Twente do.  They have to sell to survive, and as long as Twente’s management build the club up during the good times, the bad times will not last as long.  The Champions League will raise the profile of FC Twente further and they have already started to reinvest.  Money has been set aside to increase stadium capacity up again from 24,000, highly rated Swedish winger Emir Bajrami has been signed from IF Elfsborg and prolific Austrian striker Mark Janko has arrived from Red Bull Salzburg, presumably to fill the gap that Luiz’s departure will leave.  Former Belgian goalkeeper Michel Preud’homme will lead the side this season and it will be interesting to see how Twente go.  Good luck to them.