Pat Nevin: Kilmarnock title win would bigger achievement than Leicester’s

01/12/18 LADBROKES PREMIERSHIP'KILMARNOCK V HIBERNIAN (3-0)'RUGBY PARK - KILMARNOCK'Eamonn Brophy celebrates after scoring to make it 1-0 Kilmarnock.
01/12/18 LADBROKES PREMIERSHIP'KILMARNOCK V HIBERNIAN (3-0)'RUGBY PARK - KILMARNOCK'Eamonn Brophy celebrates after scoring to make it 1-0 Kilmarnock.
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It’s now more than 35 years since Pat Nevin and Steve Clarke played for Scotland at the World Youth Cup in Mexico, with the latter scoring the only goal of the game in front of 100,000 partisan supporters to eliminate the hosts and claim a place in the quarter-finals of the tournament.

That summer right-winger Nevin moved to Chelsea from Clyde. Clarke, St Mirren’s right-back, would join him there four years later.

Nevin, now a match analyst for the BBC in England, lives in the Borders and still follows the Scottish game – and Clarke’s success at Kilmarnock has not taken him aback.

On Wednesday the Ayrshire side beat Livingston 2-0 to move to the top of the Premiership table. Nevin played in the side which claimed fourth place 20 years ago – their best finish since winning the title in 1965 – and argues that they must be taken seriously as championship contenders.

Indeed, he claims that should they finish in pole position then that achievement would be significantly greater than Leicester City winning the Premier League in 2016.

“Can they do a Leicester? It’s massively unlikely but it is possible,” he said. “I don’t want to put them under that much pressure – they would need to have a lot of luck with injuries because they don’t have the biggest squad.

“Steve’s working with a bottom-six budget but I still believe he can guide them to a top-two finish. However, it would take a superhuman effort to finish first – that would be an even bigger achievement than Leicester’s.

“I still can’t see past Celtic, with the resources they have, finishing first yet again. The other clubs have so much more money than Kilmarnock and you also have to look back to 1985 when anyone other than Celtic or Rangers last won the title – although Aberdeen also had an extra-special manager in Alex Ferguson, didn’t they?

“It’s already extraordinary that Clarkie has taken Kilmarnock to first place in December but it would be truly remarkable if they finished there. I’m surprised that that’s happened but I can’t say I’m shocked.

“Like most neutrals, I’d love to go on and see them win it because it would be a great story.”

Working in England, Nevin is privy to boardroom gossip and reveals that Clarke’s success has generated renewed interest in the 55-year-old. “I talk to a lot of people at various clubs in England and they’re well aware of how well Clarkie is doing,” he said.

“This isn’t like Neil Lennon, who did a great job for Celtic domestically and in Europe but then had to settle for the car crash that was the Bolton job because he didn’t have the coaching pedigree in England.

“The perception of Clarkie is different because of his time at Chelsea, Newcastle, Liverpool, Aston Villa, West Ham, West Brom and Reading.

“He’s worked with some of the biggest names in the business – Ruud Gullit, Sir Bobby Robson, Jose Mourinho, Gianfranco Zola, Kenny Dalglish and Roberto Di Matteo – and that’s not a coincidence.

“Every one of them rated him highly. Steve was never just a bibs-and-cones man – he understands the game and he can communicate with players, which sounds obvious but not all coaches and managers can do that.

“He lets everyone know what’s wanted and expected of them and doesn’t try to put square pegs in round holes – and, again, that’s not as common as you’d think.

“I’ve spoken to quite a few of the top players that he’s worked with and they all tell you that he’s got something.

“So he’s well thought of in England and my concern for Killie is that he could be offered a job by one of the mid-ranking Premier League clubs – and I say that not because he couldn’t work for one of the top six but because British bosses don’t get given those opportunities.”

Nevin also suggested to Hibernian a few years back that Clarke would make his mark at Easter Road.

“They were between managers at the time and I’d suggested Steve’s name because I knew what he could do for them,” he revealed.

“I’d said: ‘You should take this guy because he’s unbelievable’ but the club chose to go down a different road, which was their prerogative.

“He can come across as a bit dour on television but that’s not him at all. He has a bone-dry sense of humour which is typically Scottish – in fact, he reminds me of Chic Murray!”