Who do Kilmarnock think they are? It seems a reasonable question to ask when they sit fifth in Scotland’s top league and yet have emptied their manager after just six months.
Now, I know who they are. They’re Scotland’s oldest professional club. In the 1960s they performed spectacular feats, plundering a title from Hearts’ grasp and on their European debut coming back from the dead and four-nil down against Eintracht Frankfurt. All of this was magnificent, all of it a long time ago.
No, what I mean is: isn’t fifth good enough? Isn’t fifth just about right? Kilmarnock are behind Celtic and Rangers (obviously) and also Aberdeen who have tended to finish above them although not last season. Are Motherwell the problem? Have the Steelmen nicked their clothes and their spot on Sportscene?
In the show’s pecking order it’s the Old Firm, then Hearts if they’re still so terrible that it’s a story and Hibs if Scott Allan has threatened to better The Pass of the Millennium. Then Mikey and Thommo turn to the best of the rest. Last season that was Steve Clarke’s Killie. This season it’s not really been Angelo Alessio’s Killie although they can’t have too dire in October because the Italian won Manager of the Month.
This season the Ayrshire club have found themselves in what used to be known as “the St Johnstone spot” among the telly highlights. They may even have had their game shown after Hamilton’s. But apart from Celtic and Rangers aren’t we all, at the start of each campaign, potentially St Johnstone or Hamilton including, obviously, those clubs themselves? Aren’t we all much of a muchness? As likely to be nearer the bottom of the diddy rump as nearer the top?
This time round, so far, it’s Hearts’ turn to be nearer the bottom while Motherwell are at the other end. This can’t have been predicted. Hearts concluded the previous campaign by being ahead in the Scottish Cup final with less than half an hour remaining and, everyone seemed to agree, they had an impressively strong squad going into 2019-20. Motherwell, everyone seemed to agree, had been reduced. Their day, or days, in the sun had been reaching two finals the previous year.
You never can tell who’s going to be slightly better and who’s going to be slightly worse. Hearts returned to the top flight with a third-place finish but have stumbled since then. Hibs returned to the top flight playing the most entertaining football in Scotland – for half the season, anyway – but have stumbled since then. No clubs, apart from Celtic and Rangers, have an entitlement to follow one good year with another. This seems to be Kilmarnock’s problem. Nothing wrong with having ambition but there is no prior claim to that exalted position of finishing 11 points behind the Old Firm (and of course it’ll be much, much more this season).
No clubs have an entitlement because of the modest budgets at their disposal and the limited markets in which they must work. Who knows whether the latest batch of unknowns will come good? It’s in the lap of the dogs that they’ll gel with the new loan signings given they might be like the old loan signings who just drifted around trying not to get injured.
Another thing that can’t be predicted: how the replacement boss will fare. So what were Kilmarnock thinking when they sounded that ridiculous trumpet voluntary for Alessio, boasting he was “the best manager in Scotland”?
This was what they were thinking: we’re the third-best team in the land, Clarke’s gone so you lot think we’re going to slink back into the middle of the diddy rump – well, we’re not. Alessio, despite having been with top clubs and top players as a No 2, was still a risk – being a stranger to the Scottish game and not being fluent in the language. That hype did him absolutely no favours. It sounded like misplaced arrogance at the time, even more so now.
Clarke, pictured left, at Kilmarnock was a bit like Neil Lennon at Hibs. Both clubs benefited but both, with that calibre of manager in charge, were punching slightly above their weight. These guys moved on and so did many of the best players. Both successors in the dugout were unknown quantities; now both are deemed to have failed. Unfortunately this is how the world turns most of the time for most of our clubs.
The last time I saw Kilmarnock in the flesh was three weeks ago at Easter Road when they were lousy for an hour but came back from two-nil down to draw. Aberdeen at the same venue the following Saturday were lousy the entire match but Alessio, unlike Derek McInnes, was able to tweak his tactics and get a reaction from a team who, by then, no longer included Greg Stewart, Kris Boyd and Jordan Jones.
No Kirk Broadfoot either, the defender having left in dismay at the manager’s training methods. Alessio had previously worked with the Hazards and the Pirlos but couldn’t impress the bold Kirk. Scottish football, eh?