Lee Clark aims to get Kilmarnock back into Europe

New Kilmarnock manager Lee Clark was introduced to the media yesterday before he even met his players. Picture: PA
New Kilmarnock manager Lee Clark was introduced to the media yesterday before he even met his players. Picture: PA
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Kilmarnock’s new manager, Lee Clark, was introduced to the media before he had met his players yesterday and, if he is as frank with them as he was with the reporters, life at 
Rugby Park could be about to get a lot more interesting.

The 43-year-old, whose previous managerial experience was at Huddersfield Town, Birmingham City and Blackpool (the latter two being little more than fire-fighting jobs) claimed he was looking forward to the tasks of prevailing in the Premiership relegation battle and returning the Ayrshire club to the European theatre.

But Clark also revealed he would not have taken the job if interim manager (and new assistant) Lee McCulloch had been among the failed contenders, claiming the tension created by such an outcome would have made a working relationship impossible.

“When our negotiations started, it was before Lee had been in charge against Rangers at Ibrox,” he said.

“So I was watching from afar and saw that he made an instant impact. Players who become coaches and then get the chance to become a manager, [even] on an interim basis, can often want the job straight away.

“But what was pleasing for me was that Lee indicated from the start he didn’t feel it was right for him and that he wants to get more experience as an assistant and coach.

“That made my decision a bit easier. Certainly, I didn’t want to come in as manager with Lee having thrown his hat in the ring and then having been overlooked.

“I would have felt uneasy about [keeping him as No 2]
after that. The big factor, though, was that Lee was always adamant about gaining more experience.

“He has his own ambitions and has shown he’s got the talent to be a manager but he believes he still needs to learn the game.

“So that was a big factor for me and another in keeping [McCulloch and coach Peter Leven] on the staff is that they know the club and the players inside out.

“That’s a big thing for me because I’ve got to hit the ground running and they know the Scottish game.”

Clark is now contracted until the end of 2018-19 but his intention is to be at Rugby Park for the long haul. Indeed, the protracted discussions he had with the club’s directors centred less on the terms than the conditions.

He was not willing to sign on the dotted line until he received guarantees that he would be given the stability which has been lacking in the last six years.

Jim Jefferies, Jimmy Calderwood, Mixu Paatelainen, Kenny Shiels, Allan Johnston and Gary Locke have all been through the revolving door at Rugby Park during that time and Clark believes it is time the music stopped.

“Some things have to change,” he said. “There’s the recent history, with the high turnover of managers and managers not lasting.

“Their tenures haven’t been long enough and the club has been in and around the bottom half of the table for too long.

“So my short-term aim is to keep the club at the top level and then, in the summer, reassess things like the recruitment process, which I’ll be doing from day one. I also need to look at how we go about getting the players to take the team into the top six and challenging for Europe.

“As a coach or manager, you want to compete in Europe against the top teams.”

However, Clark will not be rushing into action. McCulloch and Leven will take the team for the final time against Rangers while Clark settles for a watching brief.

“Tomorrow is a watching brief,” he said. “I’ve not met the players yet, so Lee and Peter will be in charge.”

Kilmarnock could find themselves back in the play-off position should Motherwell earn at least a draw against Dundee United tonight but, after coming through traumatic times at Birmingham and Blackpool, Clark is ready for whatever football can throw at him.

“Coaching courses are terrific things but they never actually prepare you for the day-to-day stuff,” he claimed.

‘I’ve read that Lee has said he didn’t realise how hard it was until he actually stepped in. I have covered all areas of coaching and being the boss is completely different to all the others.

“When I took over at Birmingham, the owner [Carson Yeung] had been put under house arrest. That involved a lot of cost-cutting inside the club but there were still huge expectations there.”