Steve Clarke targets Euro finals as he accepts Scotland job

Steve Clarke will be unveiled as Scotland head coach at a lunchtime press conference at Hampden Park today and has already earmarked leading the team to a major finals at the first attempt.

Steve Clarke will be unveiled as Scotlands new head coach at a lunchtime press conference. Picture: SNS.
Steve Clarke will be unveiled as Scotlands new head coach at a lunchtime press conference. Picture: SNS.

The 55-year-old former 
Kilmarnock manager inherits a situation that does not look particularly promising in terms of qualifying automatically for Euro 2020, with Scotland having already lost to Kazakhstan.

Clarke does have the security of a play-off place earned by his predecessor, Alex McLeish, to fall back on. Scotland face a Nations League semi-final next spring. Win this and they are 90 minutes away from a Euro 2020 berth.

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A poor start to the current qualifying group put paid to McLeish’s hopes of being the first manager to take Scotland men’s team to a major finals since Craig Brown in 1998. Shelley Kerr has done so with the women’s team, who compete in their first World Cup later this summer.

Clarke said it was his aim to take inspiration from the achievements of the women’s side, who take on England, Jamaica and Argentina in France. Clarke’s first match in charge is against Cyprus at Hampden Park on the eve of the women’s match versus England.

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His baptism in international football as a manager – he won six full caps at full-back between 1987 and 1994 – is also a must-win match as Scotland seek to claw back lost ground on their group I rivals. They play Belgium three days later in Brussels.

Clark has signed a three-year contract until the end of the 2022 World Cup qualifying campaign – or the finals in Qatar, if Scotland make it there. It means he has been promised another campaign whatever happens during the current one and in next year’s play-offs. But Clarke is adamant Scotland can reach Euro 2020, when Hampden Park will host four matches.

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“I firmly believe we have a talented group of players who can achieve success on the international stage,” said Clarke. “I look forward to working with them and helping them to fulfil those ambitions.

“I appreciate the Scotland supporters have waited a long time for the national team to qualify for a major tournament. Now we have a Women’s World Cup to look forward to in France this summer and it’s my motivation to emulate the success of Shelley Kerr and her squad by leading us to Euro 2020. I believe we can qualify and look forward to that journey with the players and the fans, starting against Cyprus and Belgium next month.”

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Clarke will name his first squad next week as he begins preparations for a double-header that will hold the key to Scotland’s chances of finishing in the top two places.

“Steve’s pedigree as a coach and manager of the highest regard set him apart in a high-calibre group of candidates,” said Ian Maxwell, the SFA chief executive.

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“This season’s achievements simply reaffirm the credentials we believe will be of huge benefit to the Scotland national team.

“I am delighted that we now have the country’s Manager of the Year to lead Scotland and his experience over the past two decades will be integral to rejuvenating our Euro 2020 qualifying campaign.

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“It was important that we undertook the recruitment process respectfully, given the importance of the final games of the domestic season for Kilmarnock. I would like to thank the Kilmarnock owner, Billy Bowie, and the club in general for their professionalism throughout the recruitment process.”

Clarke’s success at Kilmarnock, where he led the side to third place in the Premiership this season with a record points total, thoroughly merited a promotion and continues a decorated coaching career spanning 20 years. He has already celebrated winning the Scottish Football Writers’ Association manager of the year and Scotland PFA manager of the year awards in recent days.

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The former Chelsea defender started his coaching career assisting Ruud Gullit at Newcastle United, Jose Mourinho at Chelsea, Gianfranco Zola at West Ham United and Kenny Dalglish at Liverpool.

In his first outright managerial role, he led West Bromwich Albion to eighth place in the English Premier League, achieving a record points total and highest finish for the club, before joining Reading and then assisting Roberto Di Matteo at Aston Villa.

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He took Kilmarnock to fifth place in his first season in charge having taken over a few weeks into the 2017-18 campaign when they were in bottom place.

He gave a rousing farewell speech on Sunday following the 2-1 win over Rangers that confirmed a European qualifying spot and said that three stands full of Kilmarnock fans were the equivalent of the major trophy he wished he had won for them.