Intuitive Clarke proving the perfect foil for Dalglish
While Liverpool's recent resurgence has largely been credited to Kenny Dalglish, coach Steve Clarke has also played a huge part in the turnaround - Owain Jones learns more about Kenny's right-hand man..
When Liverpool named Steve Clarke as their first-team coach just hours after they had been knocked out of the FA Cup by Manchester United, there was barely a murmur of dissent from Reds fans, even though the experienced Scot had been so intrinsically linked with regular sparring partners Chelsea, both as a player and a coach.
Their muted reaction spoke volumes not only for the esteem fans had for Kenny Dalglish's judgement, but also for the respect within the game for Clarke, who had spent 13 years in coaching positions with Newcastle, Chelsea and West Ham since hanging up his well-worn boots as a player.
One man who had mixed feelings about the appointment was his old Chelsea and Scotland team-mate, Pat Nevin, now a respected TV pundit.
Ã¢ÂÂAs a Hibs season ticket-holder, I was a little disappointed because I'd been trying to talk him round into becoming a manager at Easter Road, but IÃ¢ÂÂm chuffed for him that heÃ¢ÂÂs ended up at Anfield.Ã¢ÂÂ
In NevinÃ¢ÂÂs estimation, Liverpool have got the perfect foil to work alongside Dalglish. Ã¢ÂÂPersonally, I donÃ¢ÂÂt know if I ever had a better understanding with a right back. Clarkey was technically very, very good. He understood complex moves, read the game intuitively and for that reason was able to cover at centre back and centre midfield at international level.Ã¢ÂÂ
After finding himself back in coaching, seven months after leaving West Ham, Clarke's return left Nevin far from surprised. Ã¢ÂÂI knew he wouldnÃ¢ÂÂt be out for long. The fact that he worked with Jose Mourinho for the duration of his Chelsea tenure proved he was no fool. There arenÃ¢ÂÂt many coaches that have worked at the top clubs for that long. It always leaks out if you canÃ¢ÂÂt do your job or you have a flawed character. ThereÃ¢ÂÂs no hiding place at that level.Ã¢ÂÂ
Another reason Nevin believes Dalglish brought Clarke on board was his continuous involvement in the Premier League during the 'noughties'. Ã¢ÂÂClarke has superb contacts and that continuity over the last decade will help Kenny bridge any gaps, since he stepped out of management in 2000.Ã¢ÂÂ
With Dalglish at the helm, Nevin sees a playerÃ¢ÂÂs character becoming a key factor in regaining the famed boot room philosophy. Ã¢ÂÂPersonality is going to be a key facet at Anfield again. Rafa Benitez brought in a conveyor belt of new players, okay, some worked but many didnÃ¢ÂÂt and that scattergun approach just wonÃ¢ÂÂt happen now. Kenny will want to spend time with a player and find out what makes him tick and Clarke is the same.Ã¢ÂÂ
Dalglish and Clarke have turned around Liverpool's season
With six Scots managing in Premier League, all born within 20 miles of Glasgow, Nevin believes Clarke has been influenced by the late, great Jock Stein. Ã¢ÂÂI worked under Jock and he was a genius. I find an extreme honesty about managers who worked with him. The word integrity jumps out and Clarke is definitely of that lineage.Ã¢ÂÂ
When they first played together, Clarke didnÃ¢ÂÂt immediately strike Nevin as coaching material, unlike a certain Goodison Park supremo. Ã¢ÂÂIÃ¢ÂÂve known Davey Moyes since he was 14 and I knew, even then, that he would be a manager, but Clarkey wasnÃ¢ÂÂt like that. At the same time I wasnÃ¢ÂÂt surprised either. It was the way he trained and talked to other professionals. You could see his attitude was spot-on for the rigours of coaching.Ã¢ÂÂ
LiverpoolÃ¢ÂÂs win ratio in the Premier League has risen from 35 per cent to 55 since Dalglish and Clarke succeeded Roy Hodgson in January, and while part of that improvement has come through tightening up at the back Ã¢ÂÂ owner John HenryÃ¢ÂÂs congratulatory tweeting about LiverpoolÃ¢ÂÂs improved defensive record wonÃ¢ÂÂt have gone unnoticed at Anfield Ã¢ÂÂ Nevin feels that Clarke was drafted in to do more than stop Liverpool shipping goals.
Ã¢ÂÂIÃ¢ÂÂd underline that Clarke is not a defensive coach. Obviously if a right back is getting caught square at the back, heÃ¢ÂÂll help them improve their positional play because of his technical know-how but I imagine Kenny, Sammy Lee and Steve will be concentrating on systems all over the park. TheyÃ¢ÂÂll adapt to a style of play for a reason, and explain what they want in terms the players can understand.Ã¢ÂÂ
Nevin believes a prime example of the duoÃ¢ÂÂs common sense approach came early on in their partnership. Ã¢ÂÂTake left back, itÃ¢ÂÂs been a problem position for years, so what do they do, switch Glen Johnson over to the left hand side and keep Martin Kelly, who was playing out of his skin before he was injured, on the right. It was a no-brainer. Lots of managers try to use a magic wand to solve issues but Kenny and Steve act instinctively and do what football men would do.Ã¢ÂÂ
On a social level, Nevin says he caught up with Clarke in Liverpool recently. Ã¢ÂÂWherever SteveÃ¢ÂÂs been working, weÃ¢ÂÂll hook up for a beer because we like talking about the game. I got on well with everyone at Chelsea because they were colleagues, but I consider Clarke a friend.Ã¢ÂÂ
Clarke is often portrayed in the media as a dour Scot and it's a stereotype that amuses Nevin. Ã¢ÂÂHeÃ¢ÂÂs always being described as serious but he's not always like that. Fifteen years ago, the press were calling Kenny dour but now theyÃ¢ÂÂre starting to see his dry sense of humour. Granted, ClarkeyÃ¢ÂÂs not the quickest to laugh, but he has a typical West Coast (of Scotland) wit that entertains us Scots North of the Border.Ã¢ÂÂ
With seven games left of LiverpoolÃ¢ÂÂs season, Nevin belives that if Dalglish and Clarke are kept on by FSG (Fenway Sports Group) in the summer, they will be scouring the world for improvements to a threadbare and limping playing squad.
Ã¢ÂÂLiverpool are in a much better place than they were. In Steven Gerrard, Andy Carroll, Luis Suarez, Raul Meireles and Dirk Kuyt they are sorted offensively but they do need a top-quality winger to feed Carroll. You can add to that a left-back and possibly a central defender. With his aura, Kenny will be able to attract players simply because of who he is and alongside Steve Clarke, who gives you organisation and straight talking, you have two men that should ensure Liverpool's future is in safe hands.Ã¢ÂÂ