Phil Stamp can recall playing under England legends Terry Venables and Bryan Robson at Middlesbrough. He rates Steve McClaren higher than anyone and insists Hearts would complete an “unbelievable coup” by appointing him head coach.
The Yorshireman’s name is on a shortlist drawn up by the Edinburgh club’s owner Ann Budge and director of football Craig Levein as they seek to replace the sacked Ian Cathro.
As Middlesbrough manager, it was McClaren who transferred Stamp out of his boyhood club to Hearts in 2002 after agreeing a deal with then-Tynecastle manager Craig Levein. McClaren, 56, retains a good relationship with Levein and contacted him to declare his interest in the role.
Stamp admits being surprised to hear McCaren put himself forward for the job but stresses Hearts will simply not attract a better coach. He says the former England manager would not tolerate interference from above and would walk away from the job rather than have his authority compromised.
Stamp insists Hearts should give him whatever autonomy necessary.
“Steve is very hands on, he’s an unbelievable coach. I’ve played under some fantastic coaches like Terry Venables and Bryan Robson. Steve is the best by a long, long way,” Stamp told the Evening News. “He’s very hands-on as a coach and I know he’ll be like that up there. Everything that happens at the club will be solely his decision and nobody else’s.
“Some managers have other coaches taking training or an assistant maybe. Steve does everything himself. He might bring someone in with him but all the training sessions will be done by him. It’s very rare that anybody else does anything because he’s very much in control.
“I know Steve personally because he still lives in this area. If you speak to players who played under him, even guys at Man United, they’ll tell you he’s probably the best coach about.
“I don’t know Ian Cathro personally but I still read about what’s going on at Hearts every day. I just don’t see Steve being like Ian Cathro. I understand Craig was still involved in things, going in the dressing room and stuff like that. Steve McClaren wouldn’t have that. No chance. He’d probably walk away.
“If Hearts could get Steve, it would be an unbelievable coup in my opinion. I thought he’d get another job in England so I was quite surprised when I heard he was interested in going up there. He knows Craig quite well.
“From what I’ve seen, some Hearts fans want him and some fans don’t. It sounds like it’s a bit 50/50 right now. The one thing I can guarantee is that anything which happens under Steve McClaren – team selection, style of play, whatever – will be decided by Steve. There will be no outside influence whatsoever.”
McClaren’s management CV denotes plenty success. A former assistant to Sir Alex Ferguson at Manchester United, he became Middlesbrough’s most successful manager. He masterminded their first major trophy win, the 2004 League Cup, and guided them to the 2006 UEFA Cup final.
Those achievements persuaded the English FA to appoint him manager in 2006 but his 18-month reign ended infamously the rain at Wembley in November 2007.However, the gritty McClaren recovered quickly and headed to the Netherlands, where he would lead unfancied FC Twente Enschede to their first ever league title in 2010.
Subsequent spells at Wolfsburg in Germany and Nottingham Forest were less spectacular. Then came a brief return to Twente and a spell in charge of Newcastle United – where he ironically had Cathro as an assistant – sandwiched by two stints with Derby County.
The latest ended in March this year when McClaren was sacked. He is now eager to revitalise his career.
“Steve is always going to get remember for the England thing with the umbrella,” said Stamp, now 41 but still revered by Hearts fans for a stoppage-time winning goal against Hibs in 2002. “Some players like him and some don’t, but let’s not forget he got Middlesbrough to the UEFA Cup final. He was our most successful manager for a long time.
“His track record isn’t bad if you take the England thing out of the equation. Look at the clubs he’s managed. He was at Man United, he came to Middlesbrough, he was at Newcastle, FC Twente, he’s been England manager. I don’t think anybody else on Hearts’ list will have that type of profile. At every club he’s been to, he’s had an awful lot of money to spend. That’s the only thing he won’t get at Hearts because they don’t have the type of money he’s used to. The players he brings in will be nowhere near the calibre he’s used to.”
Money doesn’t motivate McClaren as regards his own salary, for he is a millionaire. His coaching panache may well be his biggest strength if he takes control at Riccarton.
“He’s a decent bloke and a good fella. He can be quite one-dimensional as a person,” revealed Stamp. “He’ll know what he wants up there and it will be very interesting to see how he does if he gets the Hearts job. Anything that happens will be down to him and what he can get from the players because he won’t be able to go out and spend £5million or £6million like he’s used to.
“He had an awful lot of money to spend at Middlesbrough, and an awful lot at Newcastle as well. He didn’t have that much to spend at FC Twente and he obviously won the league with them. He’s got that kind of thing on his CV.
“I think he would do well because he’ll have to man-manage and he’ll have to coach. The players he’ll have will be the ones already there plus the youths. Hearts always have good kids coming through, that was the case even when I was there. Steve will use them. He’s not scared to do that. It will suit him to be doing these things by himself.
“It’s probably a job Steve needs as well because if he is the Hearts manager and doesn’t do well, then the jury’s out on him. He lost his job at Derby and the last few haven’t gone too well in all honesty so this could be a great chance for him.”