In his last game as club coach, new England boss Steve McClaren pits his Middlesbrough team against Spain's Sevilla in the UEFA Cup Final in Rotterdam on Wednesday night.
English Premiership side Middlesbrough take on Spain's Sevilla in the UEFA Cup Final
The Middlesbrough manager Steve McClaren is a habitually cautious man, but in the past few weeks even he has allowed himself to muse on whether his side's progress to the UEFA Cup final might be their destiny.
Twenty years after the club went into administration, Boro have come from three goals down to win through both the quarter-final and the semi-final, and now, after being appointed to replaced Sven-Goran Eriksson as England manager after the World Cup finals, McClaren is seeking the perfect finale to his five years on Teesside.
"We have enjoyed some marvelous occasions and Boro will always remain close to my heart," McClaren said.
"I'm so pleased I was able to deliver success to Middlesbrough because everyone -- especially the fans -- deserves it. Hopefully we can top the lot on Wednesday night. That would be the perfect ending for me, and a wonderful platform to take the club forward into the future."
That future now seems unlikely to include the Dutch forward Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink, who, at 34, has yet to be offered a contract for next season. He too is contemplating a grand finale.
"If it is my last game, it would be great to go out on a high, and in many respects it is all set up for me with the final being in Holland," he said. "But you still have to make it happen, and I'll do everything in my power -- along with my team-mates -- to ensure it is an unforgettable day."
The next England coach prepares for his final club game
Aside from winning the club the first silverware in its 130-year history by bringing the League Cup to the Riverside two seasons ago, McClaren's lasting legacy looks likely to be the academy.
Boro's youth policy paying dividends
Surprise England World Cup squad member Stewart Downing, Stuart Parnaby, Lee Cattermole and James Morrison have all emerged to become first-team regulars this season, testament to the chairman Steve Gibson's recognition that building a club is not simply about buying players.
As a city, Seville could hardly be more different from Middlesbrough, but the football teams share a historical lack of success and a focus on youth.
The Spanish side have not appeared in a major final since losing to Real Madrid in the final of the Copa del Generalissimo in 1962, and have won nothing since beating Celta Vigo in the final of the same competition 14 years earlier.
Sevilla growing in stature and confidence
The 20-year-old Jesus Navas has been a revelation this season, while Sevilla's winner against Schalke 04 in the semi-final was scored by the 21-year-old Antonio Puerta. "Sevilla are getting bigger and so are my dreams along with the team," he said.
"I was a youth-team player and have been a Sevilla fan since I was little. Up in heaven is my grandfather, who was a big Sevilla fan, and my goal against Schalke was for him."
Others will have more earth-bound motivations on Wednesday, with Javier Saviola (photo) seeing the final as a last chance to force himself into Jose Pekerman's Argentina squad, which will be announced next Monday.
Injured stars looking to force themselves into cup contention
For Middlesbrough goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer, too, this is a chance to prove his World Cup readiness. He has not played in any of Middlesbrough's last five games after fracturing a cheek in the FA Cup semi-final against West Ham, but is likely to turn out wearing a face-mask on Wednesday.
"Mark is back in training and the mask option will be looked at," said his agent Barry Silkman. "He will be trying out the mask in the next few days to see how it is, but he has been told he could play without it."
Boro's Australian keeper Mark Schwarzer will return
For Sevilla, defender Javi Navarro will return after missing the semi-final through suspension, while Frederic Kanoute could be available after a thigh injury.
The former West Ham and Tottenham forward came off the bench against Malaga on Saturday, but Seville coach Juande Ramos remains unconvinced.
"He's far from the level of fitness he showed earlier in the season because he had a relapse three weeks ago and has been unable to train normally," he said. "In the next few days we will see if we can improve his fitness because his aerial power could be very useful to see if we can use him as an extra option or in an emergency."