John DobsonComment


John DobsonComment

Maybe the cliché is right and maybe you shouldn't go back.

The last time Steve McClaren left FC Twente, it was as a champion and hero. This time it is with something of a whimper.

Last weekend saw Twente go down 2-1 to Heerenveen, prompting chairman Joop Munsterman to give McClaren his public backing. Less than 24 hours later, the jig was up and the Yorkshireman tendered his resignation.

That defeat to the Frieslanders extended a winless run for Twente to six, a stretch which the more dramatically minded will tell us reaches back to December 21, with the month-long winter break overlooked in favour of making things look even worse. It hasn't been good, that is for sure. Worse than defeats to Utrecht - at home - and PSV were draws 'gained' from winning positions against lowly opposition in the shape of Willem II and PEC Zwolle. A Cup defeat to lower league opposition, Den Bosch, didn't help either.

The economics of Dutch football has changed in recent years. Simply put, there isn't any money around. What FC Twente have done in recent years is to pick players up, improve them and sell them on. Luuk de Jong's transfer to Borussia Monchengladbach was last summer's big sale and funded moves for Dusan Tadic, Luc Castaignos and Dmitry Bulykin. None of whom were cheap by Eredivisie standards. Everyone knew how much de Jong was sold for and when Twente came calling for players, the asking price naturally rose. Initially, Castaignos proved successful, prompting this writer to push for his inclusion in the IBWM 100 again. Now, that confidence looks misplaced. Tadic, on the other hand, has been outstanding - he's a fine, fine player - but has too often been a lone star. What McClaren needed during the winter break was something else, something new and inspirational.

The player identified was Filip Djuricic, Heerenveen's talented Serbian playmaker, but with the de Jong money spent, McClaren first had to sell to buy and Leroy Fer to Everton was the move that would do the job. Fer had picked up a knee injury whilst on international duty in September and missed two months of the season, but was back playing for Twente, however the problem lingered and the move to Merseyside fell through when the Tukkers refused to accept Everton's request to structure payment for the midfielder over several instalments. Twente needed cash and needed it immediately. That move fell through, the move for Djuricic did likewise and a whole chain of deals came grinding to a halt in the Eredivisie which resulted in a very quiet transfer window. The financial injection from England would have seen a few moves instigated across the league.

Money also means that European football is a must for an ambitious club such as Twente, propelled into the pantheon of the big Dutch clubs thanks to the work of McClaren in his first spell and his immediate predecessor Fred Rutten. Only the champion club makes the Champions League group stages, second has to go through a play-off while third and fourth are guaranteed a Europa League spot. Last season, things tailed off badly towards the end as Twente finished sixth and found themselves in the play-offs for the final Europa League spot. They lost, surprisingly, in the semi-finals to RKC Waalwijk who had finished outside the play-off places and only got in because cup-winners PSV missed out on the Champions League spots. This was symptomatic of the way 2011-12 finished. And yet all was not lost as Twente got a second bite at Europa League football through the fair play league.

This bonus is, to say the least, double-edged. Twente's last game of 2011-12, a loss to RKC, came on May 13. Their first game of the 2012-13 season came on July 5, a home tie against Andorran side UE Santa Coloma. After winning through 9-0 on aggregate, they then had two further qualifying rounds against Finns Inter Turku and Mladá Boleslav of the Czech Republic. All of that came before the Eredivisie had begun. They needed extra-time against Bursaspor to make the group stage, but once there, they failed to win a game. With all of this football, it is little wonder that by the time Christmas came around the side looked jaded and in need of new faces to lift things.

The prospect of having to qualify for European football once again clearly wasn't something the club would want to have to do again, and while Twente are there with Feyenoord, PSV and Ajax in that top four, the presence of Vitesse complicates matters. With Rutten there as manager, ex-Twente man Theo Janssen pulling the strings and the goals of Wilfried Bony, they're causing ripples in the normally predictable patterns of Dutch football. All of which serves to crank the pressure up on a faltering, tired team in need of something intangible to turn things round.

Relying on selling your best players is subject to the law of diminishing returns. You sell, you pay the bills, you recruit with the remainder and repeat. Munsterman took over the club as it came through its last period of bankruptcy. He's not going to allow that to happen again and, as chairman, that's his first responsibility. A lot has gone into infrastructure at the club over the last half-dozen years in order that it can be as self-sufficient as possible. This does mean that the first-team isn't going to be bolstered by huge numbers or massive, big-name signings. At a time when McClaren needed players, the money simply wasn't there and, as a result, he's fallen on his sword.

None of this makes McClaren a bad coach. He's become a convert to the Dutch staple, the 4-3-3, and will hopefully not be lost to the game. Since taking the Eredivisie title to Enschede, his stock has taken a battering, but to ignore his experience would be a mistake. He leaves a Twente side in need of a spark, but not one with fundamental or structural problems. If only Everton's medical staff weren't quite so diligent.

John can be found on Twitter @dobsonjp.