October 13, 2012 by Made In Brum
Despite fine intentions and an obvious desire to succeed, Lee Clark has failed in every key area of his job. His summer signings have been, without exception, useless. He has no idea what constitutes his best XI, or even his best formation. Not only is his football unattractive, he seems to have no overall footballing philosophy whatsoever.
He does not command the respect or attention of his players. His post-match comments after last Saturday’s 1-0 loss to Huddersfield confirmed the obvious: he has lost the dressing room – if he ever had it. Regulars who were prepared to bust a gut for Chris Hughton now look like they don’t want to be on the pitch. Keith Fahey and Chris Burke were likely among the “four or five players” who Clark accused of being unwilling to put in a tackle.
Huddersfield fans leaving St. Andrews echoed our suspicions about their former manager: despite being an honest, decent bloke, he lacks the nous to succeed at this level. In three years with the Terriers, he never figured out his best XI, “apart from one with a non-existent midfield,” one Town fan recalled. Worse still: “He produced some of the most dire, boring, puerile, mind-numbingly awful football I have ever had the misfortune to see.” Sadly, this all rings true.
Clark’s only solution to the mess he finds himself in at Blues appears to be to work harder. He prides himself on giving his all. His entire self-image is based on being a hard worker, a fighter, a man of passion. This came up again in his post-match interview when he harked back to his playing days without any prompting: “You see the size of me, I’m not a big fella but I competed, I put my head in there, I put my foot in there.” Indeed, he is the no-nonsense Geordie battler.
Listen to any of Clark’s comments and it is really the only thing that comes across: passion; commitment. Admirable traits, to be sure. Clark wore his heart on his sleeve as a player, and does the same as a manager – take a glance at the dugout during matches and see him pacing back and forth and throwing his arms around as he chomps on his chewing gum. Hints of tactical genius or even whiffs of football intelligence are sadly few and far between.
Alas, some may question the intellect in general of a man who thought it wise to oblige when Huddersfield fans started a tongue-in-cheek “Lee Clark, give us a wave” chant last week. Of course, this is the same man who, whilst playing for Sunderland, went out in public wearing a t-shirt calling their fans “sad Mackem bastards.” He explained the latter incident by citing his passion for Newcastle: “Everyone knows I’m Newcastle through and through.”
Passion, when not channelled intelligently, can be problematic. It can lead to the kind of training ground and dressing room bust-ups Clark is rumoured to have had with several players at both Huddersfield and Blues. In one story doing the rounds, Ravel Morrison is said to have head-butted Clark during a row at Wast Hills. Certainly something is amiss if our most creative central midfielder cannot get in a team that is crying out for creativity in central midfield.
There may also be a rift between the manager and the normally-affable Nikola Zigic, who has barely seen the pitch since scoring two goals in the first two games as sub and then starting in the third, a 2-0 defeat at Watford. Confusion abounds.
What we need most at this moment is not just a trier, but a manager with experience and a bit of self-assured know-how, who will command respect and bring calm to the dressing room. Clark has much to learn if he is to become a good manager at Championship level. There likely isn’t time for it to happen at Blues.
The players, who he has turned to scalding in the press, are tuning him out, perhaps turned off by his inexperience, his curious team selections, his combative personality, his Geordie accent, or some combination of the above. The St. Andrews crowd, more patient than most, has also begun to turn on him, briefly chanting “4-4-2” during the last game and groaning at his substitutions. Attendances have gone down the toilet.
A major turn-around from this point (meaning competing for a play-off spot) would be welcome, but it would also be unprecedented. When will the misery end?
The club is too skint for the board to want to pay off his contract at this stage, so he won’t be sacked in the foreseeable future. Blues fans yearning for a change can only hope he will resign if things continue to get worse. Clark was said to be “too embarrassed to walk the streets” of Birmingham earlier in the season; presumably he is now scared to even venture into his own garden. He has looked dishevelled in televised interviews, his wife was spotted crying as Blues lost 5-0 to Barnsley, and his son has been repeatedly abused by fans on Twitter.
How long can the Clark household endure this punishing existence? A while longer yet, I suspect, if Lee has his way. Beware the self-image of Geordie battler mentioned above: “quit” is not a word in his vocabulary, I’m sure he would tell us. Even after the Barnsley Massacre, there was apparently no thought of resigning in his mind.
As bad as most of the performances have been, Blues are still only six points off the play-off places. Whilst there is still hope, Clark will continue to pledge hard work and commitment. Thus we can expect a few more depressing debacles to add to the already sizeable list of Clark calamities: Sheffield Wednesday away, Watford away, Coventry away, Barnsley at home, and Huddersfield at home. High-flying Leicester visit St. Andrews next, and they must be salivating.
By David Brown
Follow him on Twitter: @DavoBirmingham