Pat Nevin played alongside Steve Clarke with Chelsea and Scotland. He’s also studied his two decades as a coach and can’t believe that the SFA refused to interview him for the vacancy with the national team.
Nevin, now a TV and radio pundit, claims that Clarke, 54, is the best-connected coach in world football, having worked with more of the game’s greats than anyone else.
Consequently, he’s not surprised that he now has Kilmarnock, who were rooted to the foot of the table when he replaced Lee McCulloch just four months ago, in the frame to claim a European place for the first time since 2001.
Kilmarnock hadn’t won a league game at Rugby Park this season until Clarke’s arrival and had only four wins in each of the two previous campaigns; on Saturday they’re aiming for an eighth successive victory on their own turf against fourth-placed Hibernian.
That sequence includes wins over Celtic and Rangers, while they have also come from behind to earn a point at Parkhead and Ibrox.
Nevin contends that that’s because Clarke has removed the mental block which had previously inhibited his players.
“I remember coming back up from England to play for Kilmarnock,” he said. “Having played for Chelsea and Everton, the idea of feeling fear before any game was alien to me.
“But I remember looking round our dressing room before matches against the Old Firm and seeing a few lads who were obviously spooked by the prospect.
“When you’ve been used to taking on Manchester City and United, Tottenham, Arsenal, Liverpool and the best teams in Europe then there’s no chance of that happening.
“Steve will have passed that on to his players – you could see it in those games they won – and you always have a chance when you’re not scared.”
They trail fourth-placed Hibs by 12 points but have winnable games in hand against St Johnstone and Hamilton. Another victory this weekend would send Killie’s confidence through the ozone layer.
“If they’re going to reach the top four and qualify for Europe then these are the games that they need to take all three points from,” said Nevin.
“Whatever happens, next season – once he’s had a proper pre-season programme and brought in more of his own players – should be even better for Kilmarnock and their supporters.”
Nevin argues that Clarke’s CV merited serious consideration by the power brokers at Hampden. “It’s surprising that the SFA didn’t even speak to him, especially when you consider who he’s worked under,” he said.
“Managers usually have a go-to guy, someone they can trust and who they take everywhere with them in the way that Brendan Rodgers has with Chris Davies and Jurgen Klopp with Zeljko Buvac.
“Steve isn’t like that, though. He started at Newcastle with Ruud Gullit, who he played alongside at Stamford Bridge, but stayed on after Gullit left to be No 2 to Sir Bobby Robson, who’d never worked with him before.
“He eventually went back to Chelsea to head up their youth development programme and then, when Jose Mourinho arrived, he made a few ‘phone calls and chose to appoint Steve as his No 2, even though they hadn’t met until then.
“When Jose left he went to West Ham with Gianfranco Zola, another former team-mate, but two years later, when Kenny Dalglish became Liverpool’s manager for a second time, he asked Steve to join him at Anfield.
“Then it was Roberto di Matteo at Aston Villa. These guys all chose Steve for a reason. When you look at that list, you have to ask: ‘Who has a better background? Is there anyone else in the world who’s worked at so many top clubs and with so many great managers?’”