West Brom: Can Clarke Buck A Trend?

What West Brom don't need is another Sammy Lee on their hands. Steve Clarke is an unknown quantity but his connections make you think that he has some nous...

Last Updated: 15/08/12 at 16:20 Post Comment

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Last season:

Premier League 10th; FA Cup Fourth round; Carling Cup Third round

Manager Steve Clarke (since 2012) Odds on being first out of his job 8-1 (joint second favourite) Transfers in Ben Foster (Birmingham), Claudia Yacob (Racing), Markus Rosenberg (Werder Bremen), Yassine El Ghanassy (Gent)

Transfers out Nicky Shorey (Reading), Keith Andrews (Bolton)

As I write this I am sat on a boat on Lake Geneva, en route to seeing how the former manager of West Bromwich Albion fares in his first match of the season, the England friendly against Italy in Berne. While many queried the delay in naming Roy Hodgson, serial bleater Mark Hughes said the FA had jeopardised his QPR side's hopes of staying up by not waiting until the end of the season, as Albion were facing possible candidates for the drop, while whole forests in Sweden perished in the debate over the effect of the FA's appointment process on Spurs and Harry Redknapp.

It says a certain amount about the big-name and metropolitan bias of Fleet Street that the long-term implications for West Brom scarcely got a look-in. And here they are, taking a punt on a coach with a strong reputation as the No2 but no lead credit to his name.

Steve Clarke was likely to make the step up at some point but there is duress on both sides: the Hawthorns job is going because of the lure of England while Clarke would surely still be at Anfield had Kenny Dalglish's second coming there not failed. The esteem in which Clarke is held was demonstrated by Liverpool's initial refusal to accept his resignation after his fellow Scot had departed.

There is a mixed history for long-term lieutenants who decide to try to be captains, though. One of Clarke's predecessors in the deputy role at Liverpool, Sammy Lee, went on to the same job at Bolton before getting his chance in the ejector seat when Sam Allardyce moved to Newcastle. What followed was not pretty, even by Bolton standards.

Hodgson did a fine job at the Hawthorns but plenty felt his predecessor deserved better than the axe. It is tempting to ask what on earth happened to Roberto Di Matteo, but right now we can only conclude that there are multiple reasons why Clarke is joint second favourite to be the first Premier League manager out of a job.

But Clarke is no Sammy Lee, he was the Special One's chosen one at Chelsea. Okay, so that association with Jose Mourinho makes him tainted in some eyes (well, my eyes) but Real Madrid's manager knows a thing or two about football. The Scot has inherited the majority of a squad that finished tenth and as the top club in the Midlands (admittedly amid a dearth of competition). There have been changes and there are risks - Jonas Olsson is out of contract next summer - but if any sidekick has what it takes to move to the top of the bill then it is Clarke.

Discounting a long-ago game as Newcastle caretaker, Clarke begins his managerial career at home to the club he left in the summer, eager for a result to match the one Hodgson achieved at Anfield in the spring but up against another man in a new job and with Mourinho connections. There follows a trip to Tottenham and he could have wished for an easier introduction. Home games with Everton and Reading, and trips to Fulham and Aston Villa, follow in September.

After the first two games that is not too tough a start and Clarke should be able to settle into his new role decently enough.

Philip Cornwall

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