To some, Steve McClaren will forever be the ‘wally with the brolly’. The England manager who cut a ridiculous figure on the rain-sodden Wembley touchline as his team blundered their way to a defeat that ended any hopes of qualifying for Euro 2008.
To others, however, the York-born 52-year-old is regarded as one of the best coaches around and a deep thinker on the game. The man who not only led Middlesbrough to a major European final but was also Alex Ferguson’s right-hand man as Manchester United won the treble in 1999.
Of the two camps, Brian McDermott, whose Leeds side will today be the opposition when McClaren makes his bow as the new Derby County manager, sits firmly in the latter.
“I know Steve quite well,” said the United chief ahead of the Pride Park clash. “He has been a manager at Middlesbrough, he was successful in Holland and he was at Nottingham Forest for a while.
“I know Harry (Redknapp) was really pleased with the work he was doing at QPR (before succeeding Nigel Clough at Derby earlier this week).
“He is well known as a really good coach. He has been to the top level in his career and he was very successful at Manchester United. He went abroad and not many English managers do that and be as successful as he has.
“Steve worked his way up as a young coach. Jim Smith gave him a job at Oxford doing the youth team. He has done the hard yards and I have to say that looking at a career like that, for me it’s really important to do those 10,000 hours.
“A lot of people don’t and often they fall short. His record says that he is a good manager.”
Derby, of course, will be hoping for the age old phenomenon of the ‘new manager effect’ to come into play today as McClaren returns to the Pride Park home dugout for the first time since leaving the Rams to become Ferguson’s assistant at Old Trafford in the late Nineties.
Mind, judging by recent results, Leeds will be a team that County will fancy their chances against regardless of who is in charge. The last nine meetings between the two clubs, stretching back to 2006, have all been won by Derby.
The most recent of those defeats for United, on Easter Monday this year, brought an abrupt end to Neil Warnock’s reign at Elland Road and paved the way for McDermott’s arrival.
Since then, the 52-year-old has presided over 15 league games and United have claimed 23 points. Such a return, if stretched over an entire season, would have Leeds pushing, if not quite reaching, the play-off places.
Whether that proves possible for the Yorkshire club come May remains to be seen but they will, at least, travel down the M1 today buoyed by the midweek win over Bournemouth.
McDermott said: “I sleep okay but you wake up on Wednesday morning and say, ‘Good job well done’. I thought we played well.
“It was a difficult scenario with Bournemouth down to 10 men, it meant the opposition had nothing to lose. I have seen the stats and we were good value (for the 2-1 win).
“It could have been three or four but the only thing that mattered was to win the game and get out of the run of not winning.”
After this weekend, the Championship will once again go into hibernation for a fortnight as international football makes a return.
For McDermott, the break could prove a useful one as he strives to strengthen the United squad. He has, though, once again reiterated the point that signings will not be made for the sake of it.
“After this game, we have got two weeks,” said the Elland Road chief. “Me having a clear idea of who I want is great but the team who we are trying to get him from might not agree.
“Me having a clear idea and then trying to do something are two different things. But this (the break) gives us time to ask questions.
“Let us get this game out the way, do the best we can, try and get three points and then see what happens.
“I have made the point and it is an important one – that the players who are in the team and who got the points the other night, they are big players for us.
“Say, for example, we brought in someone and Alex Mowatt didn’t get his chance. Or Dominic Poleon didn’t get his chance. They are our own players and we have to give them a chance as well.
“Let’s not kid ourselves, if I feel there is someone out there who can make a difference then I’ll do it. I have done it in the past.
“I signed Jason Roberts one January for Reading and he was a positive and pivotal character in us going up (to the Premier League). If there was someone out there then I would definitely do it, no doubt about that.”
As for today’s trip to Derby, McDermott added: “This squad can go and put on a performance at Derby to get a result. There is nothing beyond that for me. All there is is Derby. Anything else is pointless, it’s all talk.
“Then we’ve got two weeks off and we’ve got another game. I don’t even know who we’re playing. All that matters is Derby. Everything else is irrelevant.
“We want to follow Bournemouth up with another positive result. You could see there were nerves around the place but the lads tried to play and pass the ball around. We scored an excellent second goal.”
Derby, despite the sacking of Nigel Clough a week ago in the wake of defeat to rivals Nottingham Forest, will go into the contest on something of a high thanks to the stunning midweek fightback that rescued a point at home to Ipswich Town.
The Rams trailed 4-1 at the break but a half-time team-talk from McClaren, who was supposed to be there in an observing role, did the trick as the home side netted three times without reply.
McDermott added: “These things happen. You can’t even relax at 4-1 up. It was an amazing game and I am sure that Mick (McCarthy) would have been upset not to have got the win.
“But Saturday’s another game now. It is a good place to play. We know what the personnel will be, you can’t make too many changes in a short space of time. We’ll be ready.”