Steve McClaren walks outside to pose for a photograph next to one of FC Twente's training pitches and waves to a few supporters standing behind the goal who look as though they have been drawing their pension for a few years. "Alles goed?" McClaren shouts before turning around and saying with a smile: "They're my committee. They're here every day, they tell me what we're doing right and what we're doing wrong and what team I should pick."
Twente's training ground is a relaxed environment and a place where McClaren looks totally at ease, which is more than can be said for how he felt when he came back to England last year. After two and a half years working overseas, including a couple of seasons in charge of Twente, where he won the Dutch title in 2010 before a brief and unsuccessful stint with Wolfsburg in Germany, the former Middlesbrough manager returned home hoping that the English public would wipe the slate clean.
The reality, however, was very different for a man who seems permanently scarred by his failure to lead the national team to Euro 2008. "After the England job, I think many managers find it difficult, especially to work in England again," McClaren says. "You're thought of as the ex-England manager who didn't qualify for the Euros; a failure. Who wants him in your football club? And this is why I came abroad because, like everything, time heals and then people maybe start to appreciate you again. I thought it was the right time to go back to England but it was too soon because of the reaction, obviously, from supporters."
McClaren is not just talking about the Aston Villa fans whose negative response to his name being linked with the manager's job in the summer of 2011 prompted the Midlands club to cancel a scheduled interview with him. The 51-year-old says that he detected the hostility towards him was more widespread, which is why there was only one course of action when he resigned as Nottingham Forest manager in October last year, after 112 days in charge. "My next job was going to be overseas after that, for sure. I just felt the feeling within England … time had not healed enough. That's football. It's a harsh environment."
There is not a trace of bitterness in McClaren's voice and he is certainly not courting sympathy. His decision at the start of the year to return to Twente, where he is revered for what he achieved in his first spell, seemed like a gamble, not least because he ran the risk of damaging his legacy at the club. Did that not worry him? "I had five years at Middlesbrough and during those five years I had ups and downs. I had season tickets thrown at me – 'Get him out!' – I was nearly sacked three times and yet we won the first trophy [the 2004 League Cup] and we ended by going to the Uefa Cup final. It was strange but it was a case of: 'That's all right but now we'll really develop.'
"I still live in the area and now they're in the Championship doing well under Tony Mowbray, but everyone is saying we didn't realise what a hell of a good time those five years were. We travelled around Europe, we were in cup finals, we had a damn good team and we sold out the stadium nearly every game. So therefore the legacy is there. At the time, we didn't realise it.
"I've come back here and I think that no matter what – and it might end badly – you can't take away the first, probably the only championship, this club will ever win was in 2010 and I was the trainer. So that won't change. But, no, I had no hesitation in coming back. I like this environment and I like this club and I like the president."
It is a measure, though, of how much Twente's status has changed since he arrived in 2008 that this month McClaren received a vote of confidence at the start of a week that ended with the club joint top of the table. Early exits from the Dutch Cup and the Europa League have not helped but it still seems like a strange situation. "The perception of Twente is a lot different now," McClaren says. "We're expected to win, and win playing good football. It's treated now as a top club, whereas when I was first here we were the young pups coming through. The expectation levels have gone up and the pressure."
Nothing, however, will compare to the pressure McClaren experienced when he was England manager. With the benefit of hindsight, he now accepts that he was not equipped to deal with "the sideshow" that comes with the job. "I think I wasn't experienced enough. It was too early for me," he says. "Inside was OK, the players were fine. I had worked with them for six or seven years as assistant anyway, so I knew them and I knew the environment, which is terrific at the FA. Keep me inside that, no problem.
"It's the sideshow and I wasn't experienced enough to cope with it. I think Roy [Hodgson] is. He's been through the fire a few times and he knows how to handle that. It's about the press, it's about the media, it's about the supporters, it's about the taxi drivers – everyone has got an opinion."
It is similar in the Netherlands in some respects, although McClaren says the Dutch have a different agenda. "Everybody here wants to 'get the ball out'; they want to be a coach. They discuss with you not winning or losing, they discuss tactics: 'Why did you play that team? Why did you make that change? What did you say at half-time?' It's not about: 'Win, you're the hero; lose, you're the bum; draw, you're somewhere in between.' And the analysis is good. But it's a football nation, a coaching nation. They develop coaches here."
McClaren identifies coaching as an area where England needs to improve most of all. He talks about how much more advanced young players are in the Netherlands and Germany in terms of their "football intelligence", explaining how they know "when and where to find space" from a young age. It is easy to see what McClaren means when we watch an under-14 match between Twente and PSV Eindhoven. The quality of the passing, awareness and movement takes the breath away at times.
The key to producing "intelligent players", McClaren says, is through a "coach education programme", which is something he would be keen to get involved with in England when he has called time on managing, a development that could open the door to the possibility of him working with the FA again, at St George's Park. "The one thing I really want to do in the future is pass on all of my experience, so I like doing a few talks with the FA and with the coaching conferences, communicating to those who are on a similar path to what I was in the beginning," he says.
"Ultimately, I'm a teacher, I'm a coach, and I like to coach players and I like to coach coaches. We've come full circle and what's missing in our game is coaching the coaches. We have to coach the coaches better and that will improve the English game and the English player. We have to make them more intelligent. So coaching the coaches is ultimately what I would like to do in the future. But before then, I think I've got a few more years left in this crazy game of management."