Steve McClaren is part of Dundee United chief’s ‘network’
One of the advantages of often lonely weeks away during Tony Asghar’s previous life as a football tour operator was being able to sit up late earning the trust of high-profile managers.
These individuals were often equally lonely, Asghar once told me, so were willing to have a drink on evenings when the work had been done. They tended to open up to an extent they might not otherwise have done back on familiar territory.
It is how he got to know David Moyes and Martin O’Neill. More relevantly in terms of Asghar’s current role as Dundee United sporting director with a vacant manager’s post to fill, it is how he got to know Steve McClaren.
“I would be in Austria or Switzerland with managers like Martin O’Neill, Steve McClaren and David Moyes, organising games, training facilities, diet plans, training schedules,” he said in an interview with The Scotsman in February 2019. “Managers suddenly had more control, and they would say: ‘Tony can deal with it?’
“I was brought into a manager’s inner sanctum,” he added. “It was seven days away with top managers, their staff, listening to their philosophy. I learned management is a lonely place – their staff all went to bed, so I’d sit with them, listening, writing things down.”
Asghar was working for the police at the time. He spent his summer holidays moonlighting in this world of football tour logistics after starting a company with a friend.
“Originally it was bringing kids’ teams from the States and other countries to Scotland,” Asghar explained. “This grew into a business. We started to do professional teams. My network grew, which is a key element of the job here at United. And that was not just in terms of Scotland, but globally.”
McClaren, a Yorkshireman, would not represent an exotic choice but he would still become United’s first English manager since Reg Smith in the mid-1950s. He would also become the first English manager to work on either side of Dundee’s famous football street since Simon Stainrod, another Yorkshireman, had a spell in charge of Dundee in the early 1990s.
This of course depends on McClaren being offered the job, with other candidates, including SFA performance director Malky Mackay, having been interviewed as well. United do not expect to be in a position to name a successor to Robbie Neilson until tomorrow at the earliest.
Austin MacPhee and Jon Daly, both former members of the Hearts coaching staff, have also been interviewed.
McClaren would also need to be of the mind to accept the offer if it is made by Asghar. It seems reasonable to suppose he is interested having agreed to be interviewed in the first place for a post that became available nine days ago when Neilson suddenly returned to Hearts.
Football’s crazily paved path continues to intrigue. McClaren, then manager of Derby County, actually witnessed Neilson’s last match in charge at Hearts – a 2-0 win over Rangers in December 2016. He was running the rule over Callum Paterson, who later joined Cardiff City. McClaren also expressed interest in John Souttar, Jamie Walker and Bjorn Johnsen. He therefore has some knowledge of Scottish football.
United’s present predicament – they remain uncertain which league they will compete in next season – creates some additional difficulty. For example, would McClaren be the man to lead United out of the Championship if Hearts and Partick Thistle’s legal bid succeeds and relegation is cancelled? More details should emerge tomorrow, when the Court of Session hearing takes place.
In the meantime, Dundee and beyond remains fascinated by the prospect of McClaren settling into a manager’s chair once occupied by Jim McLean.
It is over 12 months since McClaren worked as a manager after being dismissed after a season in charge at QPR. He was earlier linked with a move to Hearts when Ian Cathro was sacked but chose to head to Israel to be a coaching consultant for Jordi Cruyff at Maccabi Tel Aviv. He left after five months.
When Sir Alex Ferguson’s autobiography was published in 1999, following Manchester United’s treble win, he predicted McClaren, his assistant, would go on “great things”. He has done so to an extent.
Leading Twente to their first ever Dutch title is his finest achievement and one made all the more impressive by coming directly after a spell as England boss which ended amid such drenched humiliation.
He led Middlesbrough to the Uefa Cup final in 2006 having also lifted the League Cup two years earlier. His more recent club track record, stretching back to Wolfsburg almost a decade ago, has been largely undistinguished.
McClaren believes he still has plenty time in which to get his manager’s career back on track. He turned 59 last month.
“I take inspiration from managers I worked for,” he said earlier this month. “Jim [Smith] was 58 when he took over at Derby and, he says, had seven of his best years in football from 58 to 65. Sir Alex was 57 or 58 when he was going to retire, changed his mind and had an unbelievable successful spell in his sixties.”
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