November 29, 2012 by Made In Brum
The Lee Clark era has been, to say the least, disappointing thus far: 21 games, six wins, 10 defeats, one embarrassing League Cup exit, three goals let in on six different occasions, a 5-0 loss at home, sub-15,000 attendances, fans in the Tilton chanting “what the f**king hell is this?”, Blues lying 19th in the Championship, and the manager providing the media with more quotable material than our last few managers combined. Lee Clark’s interviews, indeed, are as excitable as his high-strung touchline demeanour.
“We’re six points from the play-offs, it’s nothing really” he said at the start of November. “It’s a week’s work in the Championship, that’s all it is,” he continued, before his team promptly lost at home to the club bottom of the league. Perhaps there is a lesson to be learnt here about talking up our promotion chances to the media whilst languishing near the bottom of the table: don’t do it.
The gap between Blues and the play-off places, growing by the week, is now 11 points. Clark, however remains confident the league remains “there to be got at,” he bullishly insisted after a home win against a supremely feckless Bristol City side. All Blues need to do is “get rid of this game that kicks us in the teeth now and again.” It sounds simple enough, but the game that kicks us in the teeth has been so common this season that it is difficult to take Clark seriously.
The Sky-televised 2-0 defeat at Watford in August, at the time thought of as one of the most memorably listless Blues displays in years, has largely been forgotten and replaced in the memory by several more recent shockers: Coventry; Barnsley; Huddersfield; Ipswich; Hull.
Not to worry; “I am a better manager this morning than I was at any stage during my fantastic time at Huddersfield,” announced Clark on Saturday before Blues’ latest defeat away at Derby. “(I’m) a far superior manager now. People might say ‘you must be joking’ because of the games we have lost but I am a better manager.” Indeed, people might say that.
It is unclear in which ways exactly Clark believes he has improved. For all the talk, specifics are few and far between. “I haven’t changed my philosophy,” he clarifies.What exactly Clark’s philosophy entails, however, remains unclear. Unlike Chris Hughton, he has not been committed to playing free-flowing attractive football, and unlike Alex McLeish, he has not built his team on a strong defence; four clean sheets in 21 matches tells the story.
In his time at Huddersfield, one fan site said- “one never saw the seeds of a philosophy, of Clark’s way of playing the game. Instead, it was eleven players thrown on the field and a hope that it’d work.” This rings true.
Clark takes a very simplistic approach to the game- “If we do the basics right – there hasn’t been anything to do with rocket science out there – it’s doing the basics right. When you do the basics right, nine times out of ten you win football matches.”
Ten times out of ten, when Lee Clark speaks, he leaves me no more informed. Sometimes, he leaves me baffled. Most of all, he leaves me realising there is little more to him than the self-image of simple, hard-working Geordie, described six weeks ago.
While a turnaround in Blues’ fortunes has not yet materialised, a clear idea of our manager’s personality certainly has. “I wear my heart on my sleeve,” Clark needlessly reminded Colin Tattum in a special feature for the Birmingham Mail, that again cemented the aforementioned self-image. He prides himself on this: “I am what I am.” What does Clark plan to do when his managerial days are over? “The first thing I will do is go back to the North East and I will be in the pub before the match with my mates and then on the terraces.”Sophisticated, he is not.
Prior to Tuesday night’s 1-1 draw at Blackpool, he had this to say regarding his team selection: “I’m a manager who rewards players for good performances… The only reason I might change winning teams is if we go up against somebody a little bit different, if we change a formation. That’s the way I like to work.” He was seemingly unaware his team had not won in three games.
Clark’s quotes make for great copy inthe Birmingham Mail, but they continue to reveal a man who is as simplistic as he is talkative, lacking in substance, and increasingly prone to caricature: ‘Wor Lee’ sitting at home at night with a six-pack of lager and no exact idea of how he plans to go out and win the next game, but an assured confidence that, with some well-placed desire and a bit of arm-flapping on the touchline, it will happen.
Accurate or not, with just four games remaining before the halfway mark of the season, our passionate Geordie manager has yet to establish himself as anything more than a quote machine. There is still time for a turnaround, of course. Middlesbrough and Crystal Palace, both occupying spots in the top three of the table, are next to visit St. Andrew’s. A win or two there and Lee will surely have us odds-on for the title.
By David Brown @DavoBirmingham