‘Steve Clarke simplifies everything so we all know our jobs’ says Dicker
Any supporter of Scottish football will be familiar with Steve Clarke’s remarkable transformative powers at ?Kilmarnock. Now the same people will be waiting with bated breath to see if that Midas touch can transfer over to international football.
On Sunday afternoon, less than 24 hours before his announcement as Alex McLeish’s successor as national team boss, the Kilmarnock manager stood in front of the Rugby Park crowd with a microphone in his hand, taking in the adulation after leading the Ayrshire side back to Europe. It capped the most spectacular turnaround by a club who were stuck in a malaise and appeared to be heading out of the division until their saviour walked through the door.
The most impressive aspect of his tenure wasn’t so much the record points total, broken in both of his seasons. It wasn’t the fact he had managed what no Killie boss had since 1966 in finishing in third place in the Scottish top flight. It was that he did all of this with largely the same group of players he inherited when he took over the club.
Of the team that started Sunday’s win against Rangers, only Youssouf Mulumbu – signed a few weeks into Clarke’s tenure – wasn’t a member of the squad that propped up the Premiership table in October 2017.
His knack for improving players has set him apart from his peers in Scottish football. The difference in the players such as Stephen O’Donnell, Alan Power, Kirk Broadfoot and Eamonn Brophy, scorer of the winning goal against Rangers, since he succeeded former boss Lee McCulloch has been quite incredible.
Even those who performed at Killie prior to his arrival have made a significant leap. One such player was Gary Dicker, who went from a decent sitting midfielder to one of the best at his position in the league this season.
He believes the secret to Clarke’s success – and this is something that members of the Rugby Park dressing room have stated often over the previous 19 months – is the 55-year-old’s ability to get his point across clearly and simply, leaving any individual player with absolutely no uncertainty as to what his role is in the team.
“As a team, you are always in the game, and everyone knows their job. There are no grey areas – there will be a team out there who will want to play for him straight away. He commands respect straightaway,” said Dicker.
“You don’t need to say what he can do – he has shown it out there. Look at the way we have played at Kilmarnock, last year and this year. It is an unbelievable achievement from him and [Kilmarnock assistant ] Alex Dyer and all the staff.
“A lot of people know about football – but showing it and getting your point across is something else. Plus, having a way of playing. I’ve played under a lot of managers who haven’t had a way of playing. They don’t know what they are doing, so you are just going out and playing.
“But Steve Clarke simplifies everything. He’s not a ranter or raver, though he can have a go at you. But it is just in the way he organises things – there is always a reason behind it.
“I’ve said it many times – it is an education sometimes working with him. He is someone I have learned loads from.
“Even off the pitch as well – how he deals with certain stuff. He sits back and he takes note and I think he has learned that over the years. He doesn’t miss a trick. He watches everything. He sees everything. And he reacts. I can’t praise him enough.”
Though he has worked with Liverpool, Chelsea and Newcastle as a coach, this will be Clarke’s most high-profile job as a manager. The former West Brom and Reading boss will have the hopes of a whole nation on his shoulders.
Scotland haven’t qualified for a major tournament since 1998 and hit their nadir only a couple of months ago with the 3-0 defeat away to Kazakhstan at the beginning of Euro 2020 qualifying. There will be an expectation that Clarke’s transformative powers can be replicated and that Andrew Robertson, John McGinn and Callum McGregor will begin showing the kind of consistency at international level that they do with their respective clubs.
The pressure will be intensified greatly, but Dicker is confident that his old manager has the personality to deal with whatever comes his way.
“He doesn’t get excited. We train exactly the same, he coaches us exactly the same. We do our work all week – no different – and you can see it out there on the pitch,” Dicker added. “It is a great skill he has – he doesn’t let stuff affect him. He’s got that poker face – you don’t know whether he is happy or sad.”