Steve McClaren has admitted he thinks Derby were right to sack him 17 months ago, and he never foresaw his return to the club.
The former Rams boss is back at the club with which he insists he shares a strong affinity after leaving in May 2015 following months of conjecture about an approach from Newcastle.
The 55-year-old conceded he was wrong to allow speculation about the Newcastle job, which he took the following month, to affect Derby’s form during the second half of that campaign.
The impact on results was such, two wins in the last 13 Championship matches, that the club went from automatic promotion contenders to missing out on a play-off place, prompting owner Mel Morris to swing the axe.
Morris has now forgiven McClaren and reappointed him as Nigel Pearson’s successor on a deal until 2018.
”I never thought this would happen,” said McClaren. ”The club had every right to sack me. It was my fault.
”The circumstances weren’t ideal and the situation could have been avoided – and that’s my fault. I should have quashed the rumours and the speculation.
”I just failed at the time to dampen everything, the focus should have been on one thing and it was speculation and rumour. I needed to focus on the job. And when I committed it was too late and then I had to accept that.
”Football is a strange game and sometimes crazy. I’m delighted we thrashed it all out and can work together again.”
McClaren, now in his fourth spell at Derby having also played for the club and been assistant to Jim Smith in the 1990s, added: ”I’ve always kept in touch with (chief executive and president) Sam (Rush) and other people at the club. I think there was a willingness to work together again and a meeting was called, which myself, Sam, Mel and (assistant manager) Chris (Powell) all attended.
”There was a lot of honesty and a lot of things said in that room, which will remain private. There was a certain amount of healing but it was mainly about how can we take this club forward.
”I have a great affinity with this club, it’s like no other to me. I was a player and then an assistant. Baseball Ground to Pride Park. I came back as manager and now I’m here again. My kids were born here in Derby. There’s an affinity and we thrashed things out in the meeting and we are all working together.”
McClaren has spoken of his desire to give Derby supporters a team to be proud of – something he also pledged in 2013 at the beginning of his first spell as manager, when his time in charge became synonymous with high-tempo attacking football which got supporters on their feet.
And Rush believes the former England boss can deliver on that promise once again, saying: ”Mel has made clear he wants to see a footballing side and Steve was the architect of that. We believe he can bring that back.
”Steve had a 54 per cent win record previously. That time came to a premature end. People are aware of the difficulties we had in the latter months of Steve’s tenure, but we were a successful club back then.”