Being overlooked by Premier League clubs when he returned to English football this summer hurt. "I'll be honest, I was disappointed," McClaren says. "I felt what I had done abroad, my experiences, and what I'd done previous to [being] England [manager] – I had always worked in the Premier League. But that's football."
The last three words were said with the resignation of a man who realises he is still paying the price for a sodden evening at Wembley Stadium in November 2007, when his England side lost 3-2 to Croatia to miss out on qualification for Euro 2008. The cruel "wally with the brolly" nickname was born and, in many ways, the die was cast in terms of his future employment. "Of course [people have thought there was a bit of baggage]," McClaren says. "That's people's opinions and I can't change that."
That became clear when McClaren's interview for the vacancy at Aston Villa this summer was cancelled at short notice after the Midlands club became concerned about the hostile reaction from their supporters. Within a matter of days McClaren was putting pen to paper on a three-year contract at the City Ground, having accepted that an ambitious Championship club was as good as it was going to get for him in England, while Villa, inexplicably, were causing a furore by luring Alex McLeish from Birmingham City.
Although the way Villa treated him rankled at the time, McClaren has since become immersed in life at Forest. In the team meeting room at the club's new training ground complex, where Brian Clough's words of wisdom adorn the back wall – "Sometimes you win football matches in unusual places … like before you have even set foot on the field" – McClaren talks passionately about the "long-term project" he hopes to be given time to oversee and how his recent experiences in the Netherlands and Germany will help.
Yet there is also an early trace of frustration that will be all too familiar with Forest supporters. Despite losing eight first-team players since the end of the season (including two who were on loan), only three new faces – Andy Reid, Jonathan Greening and George Boateng – have arrived ahead of Saturday's opening game of the season at home against Barnsley. McClaren, echoing complaints made by his predecessor, Billy Davies, questions whether the transfer acquisitions panel at the club works and would clearly like more control of recruitment.
"What we have to find here is the right process in which to bring players to Nottingham Forest so we don't end up in, shall we say, a strained relationship between the manager and the board," McClaren says, alluding to what happened with Davies. "We have to work together. This view I have expressed with the chairman [Nigel Doughty] and the chief executive [Mark Arthur], that I have a different way of working – this is the way I want to work and this is the way I think is best to work."
Sven-Goran Eriksson, the man McClaren succeeded as England manager in 2006, has had no such problems down the road at big-spending Leicester City. "I asked Sven yesterday if he could lend me some money for some players!" the former Middlesbrough manager jokes. "They're going for it, West Ham are going for it big style. Other clubs are also showing their muscle in the transfer market and we will – we have to. But I don't think it will be to the level of West Ham and Leicester."
McClaren proved, however, with Twente in the Netherlands that success can be achieved without an open cheque book. In 2010 he became the first Englishman since Sir Bobby Robson, with Porto in 1996, to win a major European league title. "One story highlights my whole experience in Holland," he says, recalling the two seasons spent with Twente. "We found out a team were going to play a different system against us to counter what we do, so we got a 21-year‑old midfielder in and said: 'How do you think we should counter our opponent's system?'
"He proceeded to talk for 20 minutes on the tactical aspects of our game plan, in terms of how we defended and attacked. After 20 minutes, I said: 'Very good, that's exactly what we said we were going to do!' I said: 'By the way, when did you learn that?' He said: 'We've been doing this since we were eight or nine.' What they're teaching their players is about formations and your job within that formation, and how to solve problems on the field themselves. Could I have that conversation with a 21-year-old in England?"
The level of control McClaren enjoyed in the Netherlands was in stark contrast to the power struggle he endured at Wolfsburg, where he clashed with Dieter Hoeness, the general manager. "I knew in the first two or three months that it wasn't going to work," says McClaren, who was sacked in February.
He is, though, proud to be the first Englishman to manage in the Bundesliga and his eyes light up as he recalls the huge crowds – a total of 150,000 people – that watched Wolfsburg's first two away games, against Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund.
Forest's opening two away fixtures, at Millwall and Doncaster, will feel a little different but McClaren insists he is relishing the challenge ahead of him this season and is just as determined to ignore his critics. "I have nothing to prove," he says. "If I had to walk away from the game tomorrow, it's not been a bad career. I've got quite a few medals and memories to look back on, and to do it in different countries as well – I've gone beyond some of the boundaries of other people."
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