McClaren on brink of becoming Dutch master

ROTTERDAM - Steve McClaren stands on the brink of completing his rehabilitation after being sacked as England manager in 2007, with his Twente Enschede one win away from their maiden Dutch championship.

League leaders Twente travel to NAC Breda on Sunday in their final game with 83 points, one ahead of Ajax Amsterdam whose goal difference of 83 is far superior. Ajax, champions 29 times, visit NEC Nijmegen.

For McClaren, who turns 49 on Monday, the Dutch title would be the highlight of his club career as a manager after winning the 2004 English League Cup with Middlesbrough and reaching the UEFA Cup final with the same club two years later.

After failing to qualify England for the Euro 2008 finals, McClaren was derided by the media but he has found joy in football again with Twente.

"That period bothered my family more than me, but we managed. For me, in the long term it made me a better manager," McClaren told the Dutch daily newspaper TC Tubantia.

"You learn from things that go wrong and 'good times' don't make you much wiser."

FOOTBALL CULTURE

All eyes in Netherlands were on McClaren when he joined Twente in 2008 and the former Derby County player has learned a lot in the past two seasons.

"I learned to be patient, while I am not a patient man," he said.

"When you play a good defence in the Dutch league, you win. For me that is sufficient but I know that the football culture over here is different."

"But I didn't want to behave like a bull in a china store."

Ajax's Martin Jol is the only coach who can thwart McClaren's early birthday present. He too has a history in England as player and coach.

Jol played in the early 1980s for West Bromwich Albion and Coventry City and managed Tottenham Hotspur from 2004 until he was sacked in October 2007, one month before the FA terminated McClaren's England contract.

Dutchman Jol joined Ajax in July 2009 and after a struggling start he turned the team into a scoring machine that has hit the net 102 times in 33 league matches. The attack is backed up by a solid defence which has conceded only 19 goals.

"That fast changeover became our basic principle," Jol told the weekly magazine Voetbal International.

"We polished it and made it our second nature. Normally a fast changeover is the main weapon of a team that prefers the counter attack.

"But when you score 147 goals in 49 official matches, you can't say that about us. We just want to impose our way of playing football on the opponent."

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