Come in No 2: After years in the shadows, Baggies boss Clarke is proving that assistants CAN make top-class managers
17:37 GMT, 23 November 2012
It was easy to sympathise with the problem West Brom had over the summer. How do you go about finding a new manager that could emulate your best season in over 30 years
The Baggies had already taken one gamble and thrown a double six by appointing Roy Hodgson – a widely respected coach but with a heavy Liverpool hangover – and not only easily survived relegation but improved last season too.
But his success in making West Brom an established top flight team earned him personal rewards with the England job and the Baggies board a trip back to square one.
High fliers: West Brom sit fourth in the Barclays Premier League table after 12 games under new boss Steve Clarke (bottom left), who has added the likes of Claudio Yacob (bottom right) to a strong foundation
There would have been little surprise if the managerial merry-go-round began. Ian Holloway for instance would have been an approachable target at Blackpool. But West Brom gambled again and this time doubled their stake by appointing a ‘No 2.’
Steve Clarke had excelled in his role as assistant at Chelsea and Liverpool (even if it was more personal than team success at Anfield) but any joy in this department has history in the Premier League of meaning very little when making the step up into management.
The most high profile casualty has been Brain Kidd (now assistant to Roberto Mancini at Manchester City) who left the comforts of being Sir Alex Ferguson’s sidekick at Manchester United to take over at Blackburn in December 1998.
Who are you calling No 2
Clarke wouldn’t be the first to make a success of it.
Harry Redknapp took over from Billy
Bonds at West Ham and eventually took the Hammers into Europe, while
David O’Leary (aided by an unsustainable transfer policy) took the Leeds
reins from George Graham and led the club to the Champions League
But even the best have started as an
apprentice. Double Champions League winning manager Jose Mourinho was
famously an assistant to Sir Bobby Robson at Sporting Lisbon, Porto and
Like Clarke, Mourinho spent many
years working under a manager honing his coaching skills before making
the full step up and winning major honours at Porto, Chelsea, Inter
Milan and Real Madrid.
Curiously Rovers had just sacked Hodgson after an awful run of results left the club bottom of the Premier League and Kidd started brightly winning Manager of the Month in just his first few weeks in charge.
But despite being given nearly 20million to spend over the winter months on Ashley Ward, Keith Gillespie, Matt Jansen, Jason McAteer and Lee Carsley, he failed to keep Blackburn up with just one win in the last 14 games.
It would only get worse in what was then Division One and just 11 months into his tenure at Ewood Park he was sacked with the club 19th in the table.
Other managers don’t even get as far as starting well. Blackburn (again) only went backwards towards mid-table and beyond when Ray Harford took over the 1995 Premier League champions.
Sammy Lee lasted just 11 league games after taking over from Sam Allardyce at Bolton in 2007, while Chris Hutchings twice stepped up from assistant and lasted no more than 12 league games at Bradford and Wigan before departing. The odds were stacked against Clarke as far as previous assistant managers were concerned.
It’s worth noting that it has only been 12 league games for Clarke so far at West Brom but that’s the same amount of matches after which the wheels started falling off Kidd’s wagon at Blackburn.
More to the point hardly anyone could have predicted that the Baggies would be in the top four and just a point behind European champions, Chelsea, especially after a low key summer in the transfer market.
So what’s Clarke been doing right that so many before him have done wrong
Threat: James Morrison's goals from midfield have helped fire West Brom to wins over QPR and Wigan
One key step for the 49-year-old has
been realising that the West Brom team he has inherited has only needed
minor tweaks at best.
Beware the Baggies curse!
Roberto Di Matteo's last Premier League match as Chelsea manager was a 2-1 defeat at the Hawthorns last Saturday.
But the Italian is not the only top-flight boss to lose his job after being put to the sword by West Brom.
Mick McCarthy was given his marching orders from Wolves after a crushing 5-1 defeat to their Black Country rivals last March.
And Andre Villas-Boas was also given the boot from Chelsea after tasting defeat to the Baggies in the same month.
Managers: you have been warned!
The foundations had already been set
by Hodgson but Clarke has kept a team ethic while at the same time
strengthened an already decent squad – not an easy balance to find.
Claudio Yacob’s arrival in front of the back four has greatly improved West Brom’s shape in defence and built a strong platform for a counter-attacking style of football. This has helped not only Peter Odemwingie and Shane Long, but fellow summer arrivals Romelu Lukaku and Markus Rosenberg who have provided healthy competition for the former two in attack.
From there it has snowballed. The fans, encouraged by their team’s strong showing, are behind Clarke’s project and the playing staff (especially James Morrison) have fed off the feel-good factor by making The Hawthorns one of the most difficult places for away teams to take points from this season.
Catch us if you can: Peter Odemwingie's pace helps the Baggies play a dangerous counter-attacking style
Only Manchester City have won
anything at West Brom this term, and even that was a smash n’ grab 2-1
win secured in the final 10 minutes. Liverpool,
Everton and Chelsea have all been put to the sword in the Midlands and
it’s got to the point where it’s not even a surprise anymore – a
testament to West Brom’s progress this term.
It’s also a testament to Clarke and his potential as a manager. There is talk of European football returning to the club for the first time since 1981 and that is not at all far-fetched.
Clarke may be a highly respected coach but such is the curse of the assistant manager that when he was appointed, the expectations of many would have been to prevent a slide back into the Championship rather than a push for Europe.
The coin flips both ways though. Managers who make poor starts should be judged long term and the same apply to the fast starting Clarke.
Step up: Clarke proves assistants can make good bosses after flops by Brian Kidd (left) and Sammy Lee (right)
Like all teams and managers, West Brom will hit a sticky spell at some point through injuries or loss of form and this is the acid test the former Chelsea defender will have to pass.
Should the Baggies even end the season in the top 10 it will still be a success and then another test comes for Clarke in trying to build his own squad as players are either poached or move on.
That’s all for the future though. So far Clarke’s appointment looks like another masterstroke from the West Brom board and assistants all round the country may have a new role model to look up to when stepping up to take the top job. Watch this space.