Steve McClaren once managed Man Utd when Erik ten Hag brought back assistant

22 years ago, in bizarre circumstances, Steve McClaren filled in for the absent Sir Alex Ferguson and managed Manchester United for a game and now Erik ten Hag wants him back as his assistant

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Erik ten Hag has been named as Manchester United’s next manager

“Sorry guys, I can’t come this weekend! I’m at a wedding.”

While that sounds like a text message straight out of the Sunday League playbook, it was essentially what Sir Alex Ferguson said his team in front of a much-anticipated Manchester derby on November 18, 2000. In a bizarre turn of events, the legendary Manchester United Coach would be forced to miss one of his side’s biggest games of the 2000/01 season.

Ferguson had signed on to be at his son Jason’s wedding during an alleged international break. But as the game plans were reshuffled, the Red Devils faced their city-wide rivals in their first derby game in four years. That was the same day their boss was supposed to be in South Africa, as the great Scot affirmed many times during his glittering career, Nothing was more important to him than family.

With that in mind, Ferguson kept his word and trusted his right-hand man to oversee affairs in his absence. This man? steve mclaren, set Returning to United 22 years later as the newly appointed managing director Eric ten Hags Assistant. The 60-year-old, who boasts a coaching resume to rival most of his English contemporaries, was famously Ferguson’s No. 2 for the second half of the triple season through the summer of 2001.

McClaren, like predecessors brian kidd, became a full-fledged gaffer after leaving the Red Devils and would take over power ajax Chef Ten Hag under his wing Twente in the Netherlands after being released England after one notorious cataclysmic 16-month spell. Although her dynamic looks are set to be turned on their head in the Old Trafford dugout, the highly respected tactician has already experienced what it’s like to be the boss at Manchester – Maine Road to be precise.

“I’m not sure too many managers would have left their assistant in charge, especially in a game of this magnitude, but when we sat down to talk a few weeks before the game it was very matter-of-fact,” McClaren said, remembers the one-time action in detail.

Ferguson trusted McClaren to take charge while he was at his son’s wedding

“‘You’re going to take over the game.’ It’s that simple. Then he wrote down the team. “There’s the team. These guys will take care of it. Don’t worry’.”

With Ferguson’s absence adding even more headlines to the televised clash, which kicked off at 11:30 a.m., his assistant felt the pressure and tried to block out the noise. “I just focused my team discussions on what I felt needed to be addressed,” McClaren explained. “It was about controlling the emotions, concentrating on the game and not on the circus that surrounded the first derby in many years.

“The media had really built it up, which in part was a lot of talk Roy Keane and Alf-Inge Haalandso one of my concerns was Roy’s emotional control because obviously there was already some going on between them – and of course there was more to come in the Derby at Old Trafford later this season.

Symptomatic of the foundations Ferguson laid in his glory days, United – whose starting XI consisted of British talent who knew the rivalry well – got off to a perfect start. David Beckham converted a free-kick with just two minutes left and sent the away side wild.

With a 1-0 lead going into half-time, a satisfied McClaren could hear from the groom’s father, who had been watching from the southern hemisphere. Despite the positive result, Ferguson wanted his deputy to send a strong message to one of the players who wasn’t up to the task. Dwight Yorke.

“When we got to the dressing room, our kitman, Albert Morgan, already had a text message from the gaffer,” McClaren revealed. “In fact, he was watching the game in South Africa and the message to Albert was clear: make sure I told Yorkie to pull his finger out a little bit more.

Beckham’s early goal gave McClaren and co the perfect start



“Well, words in that sense, and not quite so polite. The hair dryer was already there from a distance, even if I turned it down to level one instead of level five. The gaffer was undoubtedly watching intently. We all felt his presence. He might be in another hemisphere, no matter how many miles away, but he was always there. This is the aura he has; the aura he had created over many years.

“He might not have been in the dressing room that day but everyone knew he would be over there to watch the game and there would be consequences if he came back if they weren’t producing.”

Ferguson reported to McClaren at halftime


Graham Chadwick/Daily Mail/REX/Shutterstock)

Luckily for all, whether in Africa or east Manchester, the Red Devils got over the line after an unspectacular second half, only somewhat memorable for a touchline scuffle after the City defender Danny Tiattos evil tackle up Phil Neville in the 83rd minute. Earning three points would give them a third in a row First League Title – meaning McClaren has lifted the famous trophy in all three of his campaigns at the club so far – United’s players and their former manager had mixed reactions to the anomalous opportunity.

“For them it was just done, move on,” McClaren admitted. “It was done for me, pure relief, a glass of red wine and finally I could sleep again!”

Those sleepless nights weren’t uncommon for him either, after working his way down to help the Red Devils win an unprecedented treble in his first half of the season. Speak with fourfourtwo, the previous Middlesbrough, Derby County and newcastle Manager added: “Did I have to prove myself? wow i did! My first five months were the toughest five months of my life – from January 1999 to late May when we won the Treble.

“Every night I would stay up until 3am planning a session for the next day because I knew it had to be perfect. I started putting out skittles and Teddy Sheringham was the worst. He said to me, “Steve, did you have a glass of wine too many last night? These cones are not in a straight line!’ For everything it was, ‘Why are we doing this Steve?’ I had to have all the answers.

McClaren helped Man Utd win the treble in his first few months as Ferguson’s assistant

Join the debate! Will McClaren be a good assistant for Ten Hag at Man Utd? Tell us your verdict here.

“Eventually I was accepted because the sessions were light, intense and competitive. I had to do it this way, so the players knew it was going to be difficult but fun. They were all competitive – it could have been a war zone any day because there were so many winners in this roster.”

With new boss Ten Hag hoping to repeat Ferguson’s trophy-rich tenure at Old Trafford, McClaren’s return doesn’t guarantee the same amount of silverware. But with all the challenges ahead, the Dutchman at least knows he can let his assistant be in charge for a weekend.

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