Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Cometh the Season, Cometh the Man

following what was a particularly dull and sadly predictable UEFA EUROS, we are now into the deep dog days of summer, finding ourselves walking aimlessly through the weekends waiting for the cooler weather to deliver us from both the stifling atmosphere of the off-season as well as lives rendered pointless by lack of focus and interest.

like many other west brom supporters - and prior to the appointment of steve clarke as the new albion head coach - i was alarmed at what seemed to be a definite lack of progress in finding someone to replace roy hodgson. the early reports that claudio ranieri was in talks with the club sounded nothing more than high priced disaster in the making.

apparently, alan curbishley had turned down the job sight unseen; and there were reports that west brom were also talking to ray wilkins.

many had expected that blues' boss, chris hughton would be the main target, and was certainly the popular choice with the public, but with the ben foster situation needing to be resolved, the baggies did not want to appear too aggressive or opportunistic with their second-city neighbours and did not seriously pursue the situation. so after a brilliant season managing the cash-strapped city side, hughton has moved on and taken the job at norwich city left vacant by paul lambert's move to aston villa.

however, and probably the most compelling of the early stories was that ralf ragnick, the ex-schalke boss, looked like he was going to take the job. this was engaging enough in itself, given that germans almost never come to work in english coaching and management positions, and ragnick is - if nothing else - an interesting character. as this story spun out for a few days, it was looking as if he might be the man, and anyone reading the local papers would have assumed that the baggies had merely to strike a deal.

this all fizzled out, however, as the neurotic (but sometimes brilliant) ragnick became increasingly linked in the media to the vacancy with the belgian national side. ragnick, it seems, ultimately never warmed to the idea of coming to ply his trade in the midlands and his interest quickly dissipated for reasons that were never explained in the mainstream media.

just as it was beginning to look a bit desperate, the baggies announced that steve clarke, long-time assistant to such luminaries as ruud gullit, gianfranco zola, jose murinho, and most recently kenny dalglish, would be appointed as the new number one at the hawthorns.

while mr. clarke immediately recieved resounding endorsements from those he had worked with, he was still relatively unknown outside the inner-circles of football management. his surprise appointment immediately lit up the online messagebords with the usual nonsense characterizing chairman, jeremy peace, as a tight-fisted so-and-so and assertions that this was once again a case of west bromwich albion going for the cheapest option.

but then again, the same was said - and in turn - of gary megson, tony mowbray, and roberto di matteo.

west bromwich albion fans are very often quite demanding. much to the surprise of more than a few mainstream football journalists, as they assessed what the more vocal critics among the baggies' support had been posting online and saying on various radio phone-in shows throughout last season's campaign, it appeared that even roy hodgson never really had the full backing of some of the old time hawthorns terrace pundits, and respect for his achievements was often only grudgingly acknowledged... but that's another story.

to his credit, steve clarke does have some impressive recommendations saying that he is definitely ready for the supreme job - and at any club you would care to name. from the point of view of the albion board he's well worth the gamble. and make no mistake, bringing in a new gaffer is always a gamble no matter who it is or what the organization. at this point, it's all the club can do. when put in front of the cameras and mics, clarke said all the right things as he was introduced to the press and set out his goals for the club in no uncertain terms: to bring a more attacking style of football to the already established defensive foundations - especially for home fixtures. he also stated that he aims to see the team finish with more than 47 points in the league and that he wants to revive the traditional spirit of the albion by having a decent cup run.

with the way the albion have organized the management side of things along the lines of a european club, having a head-coach and a sporting and technical director instead of the traditional british style manager, the only new experiences for steve clarke will be picking the match-day team sheet; providing the tactics at the front-line; as well taking responsibility for the post game press statements.

for me, he seems to lack the personal charisma of some of his contemporaries, but then, he may not need it. there is no doubt that he's a shrewd and intelligent man who knows plenty about football; and if he's as tough an old scot as he appears, that might just be enough.