September 25, 2012 by Made In Brum
I was fully behind Lee Clark when he got the manager’s job at Blues. Not only were the other applicants generally uninspiring, but Clark wanted the job badly, said all the right things, and appeared to have a good record at Huddersfield.
“This is a big, big club,” he stated at the time. “This is a Premier League club in waiting.” Sadly, it appears he is not a Premier League manager in waiting.
“We’ll work damned hard and I know we can get it right,” Clark assured supporters on Saturday after the Barnsley Massacre. We know the former is true. Clark is, if nothing else, a genuine bloke who prides himself on giving his all; he was the same as a player. But what chances the latter?
I sincerely hope Clark can turn it around, and I feel for him as he paces the touchline ferociously chewing his gum and searching for answers. But I just can’t see it. When was the last time a manager who was held in such low regard by so many of the club’s supporters ever regained their confidence? When a rumour had Clark packing his bags yesterday, Blues fans on Twitter were rejoicing.
When has a turnaround from this low a point ever been completed? Certainly at Blues it has never happened. The current dire straits have reminded many of the Terry Cooper era, and it was the manner of the defeat to Barnsley that was even more embarrassing than the result.
I understand the familiar refrain from Clark’s defenders that we should avoid replicating the B6 bed sheet brigade, show some patience, and give the manager time – more than nine competitive matches at least. But to ignore the obvious negative trends is to kid ourselves.
From the beginning of the season, Clark has been unsure of his best eleven, his best formation, and his players’ best positions. The same side has yet to start consecutive matches. The football has been poor, the defence has been disorganised, and fans are voting with their feet.
Mullins, Ambrose and Lovenkrands – Clark’s big summer signings – have each been utilised in multiple roles, looking feckless in all of them, thus raising questions about Clark’s nous in the transfer market.
Chris Burke, who won player of the year honours whilst playing 61 games on the right wing, must have wondered what was going on when Clark deployed him in the middle of a diamond formation at Coventry.
Clark’s defenders point out that we were languishing towards the bottom of the Championship early in Hughton’s tenure. The comparison is misguided as we had games in hand and were playing good, purposeful football even when results didn’t go our way (see the opening day defeat to Derby).
Most revealingly, players who did wonders for Hughton are looking a step slower and devoid of inspiration. The lack of energy throughout the side against Barsnley – and against Charlton, and Sheffield Wednesday, and Watford, and Coventry – was obvious to all.
To say that professional footballers should not need a manager to motivate them is an easy riposte, but a coach’s number one job is to get the most out of his squad. Clark is falling far short. Perhaps his men, many of whom are not much younger than him, don’t respect him – perhaps because of his unsubstantial résumé, his tendency to chop and change his team, his lack of an overarching football philosophy, his distressed demeanour, or a combination of all of the above.
Whether there is genuine tension between Clark and any of his players is unclear. However, to not even feature Zigic in the matchday squad against both Peterborough and Bolton, after fans were celebrating retaining the £60,000-a-week striker’s services at the transfer deadline, seemed a curious decision which left some wondering if there was a rift between the Geordie and the Serb.
With two tough away matches coming up (Brighton and Cardiff), we will learn soon enough whether the players are prepared to pull together and fight for their manager. Perhaps they will surprise us with a hard-fought point down south and a win in Wales, but there is no evidence from the season so far suggesting this will be the case.