Steve Clarke: Proving all the doubters wrong
Certain managers will not be sleeping easily this week, because club chairmen tend to address their mistakes quickly during the first international break of the season. In that spirit, I would like to acknowledge a schoolboy error: West Bromwich Albion will not be relegated from the Premier League.
This rather makes a mess of my pre-season predictions, which already look as though they were made by one of those crazies who insist sacred goblins have told them that the world will end next Thursday. Looking daft, I’m afraid, comes with the territory.
The logic, in suggesting Albion would struggle under new manager Steve Clarke, seemed impeccable. There was a hint, towards the end of Roy Hodgson’s tenure as manager, that it would be difficult to sustain a culture of over achievement at a club which prides itself in consistency and continuity.
Clarke had also to answer one of the most pertinent questions of his career: did he possess the leadership qualities to make a successful transition from trusted No2? The Scot is more at0 ease with the private rituals of coaching than the public duties of management, and he was pitched into an unforgiving environment.
So far, he’s exceeded all expectations. There is a quiet confidence about him which cannot be entirely be explained by the stellar start. Wins against Liverpool, the club which sent “the girl from HR” to sack him, and Everton have sandwiched a draw at Tottenham.
Clarke is nicely understated when reminded of the initial doubts: “I like to think the players have some confidence in me. I’m working with them in the same way I worked at Chelsea, West Ham Newcastle and Liverpool. I always seem to have a rapport and respect. This is a good group and so far things have gone OK.”
He has the benefit of a secure, well-defined role in a stable structure. Albion may lose technical director Dan Ashworth to a similar job at the FA, but the system will remain in place if he leaves. Clarke will be able to develop bargain signings on the training pitch, where he is instigating a passing game without compromising the resilience that was the hallmark of Hodgson’s Albion.
Claudio Yacob, a modern defensive midfield player who ran down his contract at Racing Club in Argentina, is a typically shrewd signing. He has been man of the match in every Premier League game so far, and has formed a formidable partnership with Youssouf Mulumbu.
He’s also criminally underrated, like the club for which he performs so admirably. Mea culpa.
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