The 54-year-old is the fourth favourite with the bookies to be named as the successor to Gordon Strachan and has been a popular pick on social media. We asked staff writer Craig Fowler to give his take on Clarke’s candidacy
The Kilmarnock manager is the latest flavour of the month in Scottish football. Arriving to replace Lee McCulloch at the Scottish Premiership’s bottom side, as they were in early October, he has since supervised a complete rejuvenation of the club’s fortunes on the park, with Killie currently occupying a spot in the top six and a place in the last 16 of the Scottish Cup. It’s been a remarkable turnaround and it’s no surprise that some have already begun touting his name as the next manager of Scotland - especially in the wake of Michael O’Neill’s decision to turn the job down.
He ticks a number of boxes. Firstly, he’s got a wealth of experience in coaching, having been a long-time assistant at such illustrious English clubs as Newcastle, Liverpool, Aston Villa and Chelsea, not to mention his managerial spells with West Brom and Reading.
Secondly, his stock is on the rise with Kilmarnock and, if we are gauging public perception correctly, would represent an acceptable choice among pundits and fans. Simply, the SFA would not face much of a backlash, if at all, if they were to give the job to Clarke.
Thirdy, he’d be cheap. According to reports, Scotland’s governing body fell short with their offer to O’Neill, who had been promised a hefty package to remain with Northern Ireland. With all due respect to Kilmarnock, it’s unlikely that Clarke will currently be on a similar amount of money.
And finally, he’s not Malky Mackay or Alex McLeish.
The perfect candidate then? Well, not quite. While we cannot deny that Clarke is doing some brilliant work at Rugby Park at this moment in time, he’s still only 13 games into his stewardship with the Ayrshire club. Take away those 13 matches, a very small sample size you must admit, and ask yourself the same question: would you be happy with Steve Clarke as national team boss? The answer is probably not.
Even though he guided West Brom to an eighth place in the English Premier League his only full season with the club - their best league finish since 1981 - he was sacked midway through the following term with the Midlands outfit only two points above the drop zone. He then went to Reading and was given the boot just one year into the job, having won once in his final eight games for a team whose board expected to be seriously challenging for promotion.
There was an element of harshness to both those dismissals, especially for those looking on from a distance, and there were certainly few reservations when his name was first linked to the vacancy at Kilmarnock. However, two failed club jobs, which combined only lasted two-and-a-half years, even in the notoriously cut-throat world of English football, is still not looked upon favourably when you’re looking to hire someone as an international manager.
There’s also the feeling that the SFA, if they were to hire Clarke, would be doing so simply because he is an easy pick. With each failed qualification campaign the pressure grows on the governing body. Having knocked on the door in the previous two campaigns, this appointment is crucial. Either the new man successfully builds on the past near-misses, or Scotland begin trending in the wrong direction again and face another few years in the international wilderness.
O’Neill was viewed as the stand-out candidate for his work with Northern Ireland, and thus Stewart Regan and co were forgiven for having tunnel-vision with regards to this hire. Now that O’Neill has pulled out, there no longer exists an obvious successor to Gordon Strachan.
Even though there is a demand for a new manager to be hired quickly, they must put the necessary work in to identify their next preferred candidate. There’s a whole world out there and they need to do their due diligence. By selecting Clarke, especially if there is no interview process including other applicants, it would suggest they’d taken the easy way out and lacked the foresight and authority required to make such an important decision.
It would actually be great to see Clarke remain in his current role for the time being and see what he can do.
In all likelihood, sixth place is about as best as he can hope for in the short-term, with Kilmarnock’s budget being dwarfed by those above them in the league table. But when he took over he made it his mission to improve not only the failing team on the park, but the club as a whole as well. Killie have saw dwindling crowds for a number of years and finally they have a manager who seems capable of turning that around. It would be a shame for him to leave and become the latest manager struck down by the poison chalice that is the national team role.
Clarke, if he continues his fine work at Rugby Park should definitely be in serious contention for the position. However, at this moment, the opportunity has probably come just a little too soon.