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.