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The coaching interview: Steve McClaren

Did you always know you wanted to be a coach?
Andy Bryan, York
I had potential as a player but I had a bad injury at Derby, and I struggled to play at the level I wanted after that. At 31 I knew that when the opportunity to coach came along, it was something I wanted to do. Oxford was my apprenticeship, working with Brian Horton and Denis Smith. I loved going into the manager's office after games - Jim Smith was there often, he's an Oxford legend who would come to watch games, and I'd always get his drink, a whisky. When he got the Derby job, he said he liked the way I'd always served his drink and took me on as his assistant! Jim allowed me to be innovative at Derby - we were the first to introduce ProZone, we brought in a psychologist, introduced sports science.

You hadn't played at the top level - did you have to prove yourself to players when you joined Man United?
Steve Whitlow, Halesowen
Did I have to prove myself? Wow, did I...?! My first five months at United were the hardest five months of my life, still to this day, from January 1999 to the end of May when we won the treble. Every night I would be up until 3am, planning my session for the next day, knowing it had to be absolutely perfect, because if it wasn't they would kill me. I’d put the cones out and Teddy Sheringham was the worst, he’d say, ‘Steve, did you have a glass of wine too many last night? Those cones aren’t in a straight line!’ For everything it was 'Why are we doing this, Steve?' I had to have all the answers, but eventually I was accepted because the sessions were bright, intense, competitive. I had to make it that way so the players knew it was going to be tough but enjoyable. They were so competitive, it could have been a war zone every day, because there were so many winners within that squad.

What was the weirdest job Fergie ever made you do as his assistant?
Andreas Meyer, via Facebook
Manage the Manchester derby! He told me at the beginning of the season, “Steve, my son’s getting married in South Africa and that day it’s the Manchester derby, you’re going to have to take it’. Thank goodness we won 1-0, Beckham scored a magnificent goal. My record as Manchester United caretaker manager was 100 per cent! All I could think of was Sir Alex watching the game, dying to phone me - I think he did at half time to say, 'Tell that Dwight Yorke to start moving!' But he trusted people to do their job - that was his other secret as a manager. Two days after I joined United, we won 8-1 at Nottingham Forest and I had this fear of ‘What can I bring to this team? What do I actually coach?' I went into Sir Alex's office on the Monday and asked what he'd like me to work on, but he said, 'Steve, what did you do at Derby? Just do that, that's why I've brought you here'. He told me to get on with coaching, hardly gave me any feedback, never came in and said, 'I want you to work on this or that'. He gave me a blank sheet of paper.

You were on the England coaching staff for the 5-1 win in Germany - what was the gameplan?
Freddie Davies, Chelmsford
What Sven gave to England was pure simplicity - he's the calmest man I've known in football, ever. When we'd talk about decisions, we'd say, 'And Sven, what do you think?' He'd always say, 'I think, Stevie, we will sleep on it, we will see in the morning...' I think he knew what his decision was - I don't think Sven's ever had a sleepless night in his life, whereas I've had many! That was the difference. He brought calmness, simplicity, we played 4-4-2 and he allowed the players to play. It was just one of those games where everything clicked and the potential, which was always there with those players, suddenly came together. It was the most memorable night I had working with England.

Since 1996, the only English managers to win a major trophy with an English team have been Harry Redknapp and yourself. Do you feel that's overlooked?
Barry Fox, Portsmouth
These things are often overlooked until a few years later. My main aim is to be respected in football. During 25 years, 15 as a manager, you’re going to have ups and downs. I’ve got a long CV and I’ve taken risks. I’ve gone abroad, I’ve taken jobs which maybe in hindsight were a mistake, but I’ve always taken a challenge. I’m prepared to fail, which I have done massively at times, but if you’re not prepared to fail, you don’t have the opportunity to succeed. I can say I've won things. 
The two people I wanted to win a trophy for at Middlesbrough were Steve Gibson and Juninho. After that Carling Cup final [in 2004] I just wanted to get Steve on to the field. He didn't want to at first, but eventually he came on. Then I remember being doused with champagne by the players, funnily enough, wishing I had an umbrella to keep my hair dry...

Was leaving David Beckham out of your first squad the hardest decision you've ever had to make?
James Dillon, Ruislip
Absolutely. I loved him to death. His performance against Greece at Old Trafford in 2001 was something I've only seen on a few occasions - Roy Keane against Juventus in 1999 was another. We were sinking fast and Beckham just decided to take control of the game. But he was going to America - it was a tough decision to leave him out but I felt I needed to make a bold one, to put my mark on things. He was very disappointed when I told him, but he'd also just relinquished the captaincy so it was kind of an indication it was time for change. We always had a good relationship, he was the ultimate professional, once he crossed the white line he had to be the best and he would give you everything. It was tough to leave him out, easy to bring him back. I put him on at half time at home to Croatia and he changed the game and got us back to 2-2. I thought, 'I'm 10 or 15 minutes away from making one of the best decisions of my life'. Then it crumbled.

What would you have done differently in England's Euro 2008 qualification defeat to Croatia at home?
Mo Nish Choudhury, via Facebook
Two things. The first is start with 4-4-2 instead of 4-5-1. I felt we just needed a draw and that would give us a good platform. It didn't, so we changed to 4-4-2 at half time. The second thing would be to make a substitution before they scored their third goal. I should have done that five minutes earlier. They are my two regrets.