Lee Clark: is the Jury Still Out?

 I received an email from Nick Xydias, who tweets under the name of @Greekbluenose. He wanted to have a say on Lee Clark, so here we go.

It seemed like a good idea at the time. Young manager. Bristling at his dismissal by Huddersfield Town. No compensation had to paid to acquire his services. He was effusive and eager. He knew this was a big opportunity for him and was making all the right sounds at his unveiling.

He was also stepping into the dug out vacated by Chris Hughton. By common consensus, Chris Hughton did a magnificent job last season, managing limited resources effectively with calm and perspective.

7 League and 2 League Cup games into the season and Blues find themselves dumped out of the League Cup by Coventry and barely above the relegation zone.

Twitter, Facebook and various message boards have been fizzing about the merits and demerits of Lee Clark as our current boss and here’s my personal take on things.

Allowance has to be made for his inexperience and the fact that he is a very different character to Chris Hughton. Hughton was invariably calm and restrained but Lee Clark most definitely wears his heart on his sleeve. During his television interview after the Barnsley game, he looked as though he’d turned up at a pub on a blind date and found
Julie Goodyear sitting opposite him.

There have been positives of course.

Signing Paul Caddis was an excellent piece of business. He’s quick, composed on the ball, has great delivery but, now, is also injured. Picking up Leroy Lita was also a great move. He’s experienced, quick, muscular and works hard. There were clear signs that he was capable of forming a great partnership with Marlon King in the Bolton game.

Lee Clark is not shy of making bold decisions. He omitted Ziggy from the squad for the Bolton game. He has substituted seasoned pros such as Burke and Mullins relatively early on in games and has signed Paul Robinson on loan when to the majority of Blues fans, he’s as welcome to St Andrews as Andrew Mitchell MP to the Police Federation annual conference.

He is also obviously very enthusiastic and knows this is his big chance to progress as a manager. Expectations and demands are, perhaps unrealistically, high at Blues in comparison to Huddersfield and Lee Clark was ready to embrace the challenge. He cuts a very animated figure on the touchline and lives and breathes each challenge from the technical area. I prefer that to the brooding Armani-clad Mourinho types skulking in the dug out.

It is also clear that when Lee Clark was appointed, there was a dearth of realistic alternatives. Mick McCarthy? No thanks. Billy Davies? Er.. nope. Even the lure of city living in Bordesley Village couldn’t tempt Pep Guardiola out of his sabbatical in New York.

Acknowledging these positives, I have to say that at this stage of the season I am far from convinced that Lee Clark will succeed as Blues manager. I accept the dust is still settling after the Barnsley debacle but my opinion of him as a manager is not unduly influenced by that performance, appalling though it was.

What has gone wrong?

Injury has deprived Clark of the services of Keith Fahey until recently and he is key to our progress this season. He provides a calm composure and a degree of passing accuracy we really miss. We’ve missed Stephen Carr, no doubt. A real leader on and off the pitch. We’re also in the midst of a defensive crisis but that only materialised during the last 2 games with the loss of Caddis, Murphy and Ibanez.

We were spoilt last season. Many of us expected a relegation battle but the players rose to the challenge magnificently. We fell just short but the players gave their all. Burke was majestic in large part, Davies bossed most if not all decent Championship strikers pitted against him, King had a tidy return of goals and the players played with a real spirit and unity that was evident. You sensed at the end of the Blackpool play-off semi-final that the players had given absolutely
everything. The very same players, for whatever reason, have consistently underperformed this season.

In my mind, Clark has far better attacking players at his disposal than Chris Hughton had but is not getting the best out of them. There are few, if any Championship club fans that would not prefer Lita, King, Redmond, Zigic , Lovenkrands and Burke to their own attacking /creative players. Yet Lee Clarke cannot seem to generate a consistent, productive attacking threat from these players. Burke, in particular looks a shadow of the player he was last season.

Of all our summer transfers, the one that generated most excitement in my mind was that of Ravel Morrison. Here is a player likened to the young Paul Scholes by many a Manchester United fan. Strong in the tackle, technically excellent, eager to impress and ready to make his mark. Yes, he has baggage but there is no doubting his talent. He was man of the match against Charlton. He hasn’t started a game since. Assuming nothing untoward has gone on behind the scenes,
the decision to bring on Darren Ambrose instead of Ravel Morrison versus Barnsley beggared belief. In my view, a complete waste of talent. Talent that Clark was eager to proclaim after signing him.

Perhaps more worrying is the fact that the majority of Lee Clark’s signings haven’t delivered yet. Caddis looked great before he got injured and Lita has shown flashes of excellence but the rest? Ben Gordon was chased for weeks before he signed and was dreadful versus Watford. Dreadful to the point that Clark chose to sign Paul Robinson instead of entrusting Gordon with another chance. David Lucas did, however, provide some much needed comedic relief with
his performance versus Barnet.

Darren Ambrose scored a great goal versus Barnet and played well against them. Yes, he’s picked up a knock but can anyone really say he has consistently impressed when fit in the admittedly few games he’s played?

Peter Lovenkrands is now occupying a place on the bench after an initial bright start to the season and Hayden Mullins has been, by and large, utterly woeful. Yes, he scored a great goal against Forest but even Dean Peer notched a few in his heyday. In my view, Morrison and Gomis have both been overlooked unfairly so far this season.

Yes, it is relatively early in the season and yes it does take time for signings to gel but two statistics are particularly damning: we’ve kept 1 clean sheet in 7 league games and the only game in which we have enjoyed the majority of possession was the game against Barnet. I agree that possession isn’t the be all and end all but it is indicative of whether a team is playing well. I hear that Barcelona’s possession stats are quite good.

Even if we’d have scraped a narrow win or draw against Barnsley, it would not have masked the problems outlined above but the manner of the performance rang very loud alarm bells in my mind. This was Barnsley. Not Cruyff’s Holland or Pele’s Brazil. Barnsley. They had lost every away league game before Saturday. On paper, our players were far superior. Football isn’t however, played on paper and boy we found that out on Saturday.

Bar Butland and perhaps Ibanez, every single player turned out a gutless, shameful and embarrassing performance. No desire, no spirit, no drive, nothing. An abject capitulation. I know that the players have to bear their fair share of the blame but at half time, when, amazingly, it was still 0-0, Lee Clark had his chance to galvanise the troops, to stoke them up, to remind them of what was expected of them. They duly came out and shipped 5 goals in 23 minutes.

I was there when Liverpool destroyed us 7-0 at home in 2006. I remember Marcos Painter, a limited but utterly committed player, manfully trying his best to mark Steven Gerrard and I contrast that with the seeming indifference of much better players giving in against Barnsley.

Lee Clark promised us that his team would play to a high tempo, would play a pressing game and would try and regain and keep possession. He promised exciting football. If players who are capable of playing in the manner expected by the manager consistently fail to execute his gameplan and philosophy of the game, what does it tell us about the players desire to play for him and to relieve the ever-increasing pressure on his shoulders?

Paul Robinson has been drafted in on a one month loan. He may well provide some much needed grit and determination. He may be past it. Assuming he starts the next couple of games, a back four of Robinson, Davies, Caldwell and Spector ought to be capable of giving us a platform to get a result against most teams in this division. The injury crisis is a factor but cannot excuse any repetition of the Barnsley performance.

There is, of course, no injury crisis affecting our midfielders and strikers. Ravel Morrison must be utilised more. Redmond must take precedence over Burke and Davies and Caldwell both need to rediscover last season’s form very quickly. If Marlon King could also attain a basic understanding of the offside rule, that would be helpful.

We play Brighton and Cardiff, both away, in our next two games. They are both huge tests of character and desire for our players. How badly do they want it? How eager are they to repay the fans after the Barnsley disaster? How keen are they to safeguard their manager?

I really hope Lee Clark succeeds at Blues and am happy to eat humble pie if he does.

One thing is for sure, things have to improve and improve quickly.

Greekbluenose 26.9.12

Discuss this post, and other items, in the Joys and Sorrows Forum.

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12 Comments on Lee Clark: is the Jury Still Out?

  1. I agree with much of what Greek says – tho’ for a guy that was started in central midfield, shovelled to left back, then right back & then central defence (?) during the chaotic farce that was the Barnsley debacle, I think that ‘Phil’ Spector deserves at least some credit……

    The persistence in ignoring Ravel Morrison’s possessional & passing ability does mystify me & make me wonder where Clark & crew are coming from: if he’s again been a ‘naughty boy’ off-pitch why keep him on the bench? So presumably that can’t be the reasoning….. He’s not ‘our’ player so there’s no logical reason for ‘protecting his development’ by introducing him gently. God knows, Lee has tried pretty much every other strange combination – so for goodness sake give the guy a chance: it can’t be any worse!

    Can it………?

  2. The only criticism I have of the article – and it’s a mistake a lot of people are making, so don’t feel alone – is that Robinson is NOT on loan. He was released from Bolton Wanderers at the end of last season and so it’s a month’s ‘permanent’ deal. He’s ours, rights and all.

    Aside from that – a completely perfect article. You’ve highlighted, with grace and skill, pretty much every failing of Lee Clark so far. The inability to play attractive football (although promised), the inability to select the right team, the inability to use youngsters instead of trying to use square pegs in round holes, the inability to lead, the inability to let football matters take presidence over personal disputes…

    The inability to manage at this level full-stop.

    I know many people slate fans who believe they could do a better job than the manager, but I genuinely believe anyone on those stands could pick a better and more effective line-up than Lee Clark can.

    And that’s worrying.

  3. As a Huddersfield fan I have to say that although Lee Clark did well for us some of our performances were inept to say the least, it would appear similar is happening with you. Forget the injury situation as that has no bearing on things as when at Town he chopped and changed the team on a weekly basis and so causing constant disruption. That said i would say hang in there as he has a greta eye for talent, look at Jordan Rhodes and Antony Pilkington, and if allowed hopefully he will have learned from his time with us and be better for you.

  4. Huddersfield Town fan here.
    Seems to me like Clark is replicating exactly what he did in his final season down with us – leaving out key players for unknown reasons, no change of tactics etc.
    I really do hope he manages to turn it around, as in his first full season with us, our football was quick, attacking and a delight to watch – then completely changed strategy after our play off semi final defeat to Millwall.
    He is a good manager, but doesn’t do well under pressure at all (although stated on numerous occasions that he strives under it).
    Wish him well, although hopefully next Saturday when we visit it’ll be a different story and we can bag a victory 🙂

  5. Having read these article on Lee Clarke I can talk as a long time Huddersfield supporter. Am I suprised?? No not one bit, if someone looks at his record before joining Birmingham it looks like you have got a great manager but that is where record and fact are two really separate issues. Lee Clarke was manager for three seasons at Huddersfield and was bankrolled to the tune of several million pounds by our multi-millionaire owner. To be honest he had more money at his disposal than most Championship side and yet he failed at two attempts in getting promotion and was on the verge of blowing it a third time when he was given the sack by our chairman.

    This was taken by the media as ridiculous decision but to Huddersfield fans there was no complaints. To me his biggest crime was in the play off final 2010/2011 he decided in his wisdom to leave our top scorer by far ‘Jordan Rhodes’ on the bench. We lost 3-0!! Yes the same player who the following season scored 40 goals, got international selection and was sold for £8 Million.

    Lee Clarke is a likable individual but he has got as much idea as about management, tactics and team selection as the tea lady. He is passionate about the game and winning but he is like a rabbitt staring at the headlights in games. Team selection is awful, use of substitutes non existent and he is full off arrogance when interviewed.

    Birmingham you have made a huge, huge mistake in appointing Lee Clarke, we should have won League 1 was a huge margin given the funds made available to him instead we got there thanks to Simon Grayson by the skin of our teeth. Look where we are now!!

    I think if you have common sense you would cut your losses now make a swift appointment and let Lee Clarke get back to watching his belovered Newcastle with his mates.

    Michael

  6. As a Huddersfield fan I feel for what Birmingham are going through at the moment, many of us warned the Birmingham faithful what to expect from Clark’s management or lack of it as the case might be. Buying players and then not playing them in the correct positions, leaving out players who have played well for no good reason, failing to change tactics when things aren’t going well, not knowing what his best formation or players are… All sounds very familiar I’m afraid!

  7. To all the Terrier Fans, some of us took that on board, but not the actual Board who only saw the fact he was cheap as chips (free).
    Instead they waste over 250k on useless over the hill Ambrose, which they should have invested in compensation for a more experienced manager.
    The most important investment at a club is the manager / coach not a player.
    As for Greekbluenose, i would have taken McCarthy (not my first choice though) over Clark not because of his failures in the prem, we have to get there first, but because he knows how to get out of this division, he & his backroom unearthed gems like Jarvis etc and he plays football unlike the hoof ball Clark is playing.
    I would still support Clark, but if we are in the bottom 4/5 at Xmas then i think he has to go, otherwise it maybe a season of change and re-building.

  8. “You don’t know what you’re doing!” – a chant that is often disrespectfully (and wrongly) aimed at managers, but in Clark’s case, I think it would be a pretty fair one from what we’ve seen so far. I hear Papa Bouba Diop is training with us. Another central midfielder to add to Spector, Fahey, Gomis, Mullins, Morrison, Ambrose… Elliot (were he played in his best position, though I accept it against strong midfields, it would leave a lot of defensive work for his partner).

    What do Blues need… a left midfielder Lee? A position that screamed for improvement when you walked through the doors as Stans. You’ve signed three of the aforementioned central midfielders yourself… are you not satisfied? Morrison has really stood out when he has played – but why is he chained to the bench? I’ve read previously, from Huddersfield fans, that Clark’s style was to throw a lot of mud and hope something sticks. I have to say, that is what I have seen so far.

    Saying all this, it is very early days. I don’t think we can properly judge LC until he has been a year in the job. Is it reasonable to expect a new Manager to know his best XI, formation and get the team playing “his way” before he has been in the job 6 months? Probably not. We were spoiled last year with Hughton. What he achieved and the speed with which he galvanised a new squad was remarkable. I dare say that some of the players miss Hughton and are struggling to adapt to the seemingly polar opposite style of Clark.

    I agree with you Greekbluenose, the next two games will send a clear message as to whether the players are behind Clark. They will need to play for each other in order to avoid a good hiding at Cardiff/Brighton… should be interesting!

  9. Another huddersfield fan agreeing with what has been said by others. Despite having superb backroom staff suppoting him, Lee is just not upto managing and getting the best out of good players, who are too supported by excellent fans. He will let the fans and the club down however hard he tries. Lee has stacks of enthusiasm and knowledge of the game but not the footballing brain to bring out the best in his players. At times it is difficult to understand him. I used to cringe when he was interviewed on Match of day/Football league show. He never came over well.
    Dean Hoyle was very patient and supportive with him bot saw through the bluster and show and then got us a real switched on, with it Manager.
    I lived in Birmingham for 3 years and know several Blues fans. I feel sorry for them. Every Saturday afternoon will be frustrating for them until Lee goes. Many points will be thrown away with poor management. As another fan said you will know by Christmas and then you must do what Dean Hoyle did.
    Birmingham is a great Club; you deserve better.

  10. Bluffer. Dont let all the ‘heart on sleeve’rubbish fool you. Legend in his own mind. Didnt play a Scottish £8 million pound international in the biggest match we had for years. the play off final 18 months ago. £5 million quid, 48 players and we were 8th in Div 3. Nuff said. Blues are a big club and theyll get through it, but trust me, you aint going nowhere with him at the reigns. As for his missus crying at the game, I bet Mrs Hoyle was positively having a breakdown seeing what her husband was paying LC every week !

  11. Thanks for all the feedback. Point noted re Robinson signing. Doesn’t look like Lee Clark has left much of a fan club behind in Huddersfield! Lets hope he can turn it around.

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