The making or breaking of Lee Clark

June 26, 2012 in Championship, League 1

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At the time of writing this article, it looks certain that Lee Clark is to be named the new boss of Birmingham City. It is a dramatic change of fortune for the man sacked in February by Huddersfield Town after chairman and close friend Dean Hoyle publically lost faith in Clark’s ability to deliver promotion; his decision has since been vindicated, but at the time, the vast majority of the footballing world were bordering on outrage.

Some of the games most prolific tweeters (Wayne Rooney, Stan Collymore, Jack Wilshere) came out in support of a manager who lost his job after just three defeats in 54 games, although apparently all four share an agent or agency. The stats put Clark in a very good light, the reality, however, did not. Lee Clark was brought into Huddersfield by new chairman Dean Hoyle midway through the 2008/09 season. Backed by significant funds before the 09/10 season, Clark built a young, quick, talented side that played some extremely good football. Clark’s transfer successes include Anthony Pilkington, Lee Peltier and one Jordan Rhodes. After steering the team to the playoffs at the end of 2010, the team was found out and bullied by Millwall. Backing with even more funds in 2010 led to another failed playoff attempt in 2011, a game which showed Clark’s favourite “must not lose tactic” rather than “must win”, and at the start of this season, most fans accepted that it was promotion or the sack for Clark.

Of course, we never got to find out what might have happened. By February, Clark had lost the support of most fans, the press and, most importantly, the chairman. Clark had been found out by his incredible deficiencies in the transfer market. Clark had been given the biggest budget in the league this season and seemed to go with a policy of buying all the players that played well against us the previous season. For every Jordan Rhodes, there were 15 other very, very average players.

With the draws piling up and the football becoming worse than drab, Clark and the press had a big falling out. Clark refused to speak to the media, only ever talking about his “unbeaten run” (which for the record, most Town fans don’t accept due to the playoffs, even though the League gave us the record) and praising himself for his development of players such as Pilkington and Rhodes. His sacking came as a surprise, but it felt inevitable. What has been even stranger to Town fans has been what has happened since. Clark has been linked to almost every job going - Wolves, Leeds, Hull, a few weeks ago it looked like he might even be off to Gillingham. Birmingham, however, have given Clark the chance to continue what Chris Hughton started and I think it might just be one of the toughest jobs going.

It is possibly a testament to his reputation as a player that Lee Clark has been linked with such high profile jobs since his sacking; if it’s considered a testament to his time as a manager, then some chairmen and journalists really need to look past the facts and at the football. Let me get one thing very straight, Lee Clark is not a “young talented manager”. It is not that I don’t like Lee Clark; he showed the passion and love for the club that every fan dreams of, but he achieved nothing. With the funds available to him, if he were a “young talented manager”, then he would’ve achieved promotion. The idea that he is in the same league as Gus Poyet, Chris Powell or Eddie Howe is frankly ridiculous considering how they achieved significantly more with significantly less.

Birmingham fans have had a lukewarm reaction to the news. One fan said that “our shortlist was crap”. It’s true, Birmingham barely have a penny to call their own, so the only managers they could have hoped for would’ve been ones already out of work. The job, however, could be the making of Lee Clark. Without the transfer funds available, it will force him to be far more selective about who he brings in and maybe focus his mind more closely on coaching the players already there. Birmingham are a massive club, and considering how well Hughton did, Clark will have to start well or the fans could turn quickly.

Huddersfield fans are still split on their opinions of Clark. For every one who, like me, wishes him well and says “good luck”, there is another saying “I can’t wait to play them at home and boo him”. I can’t see any reason to boo Clark on his return to Huddersfield - he tried his best, but in the end, it just didn’t work. Should he get Birmingham into the playoffs this season though, I think the title of “talented, young manager” could finally be his. Let’s just hope Birmingham fans don’t mind playing 4-5-1 and drawing a lot of matches.