Lee Clark faces crisis of identity at Birmingham
Lee Clark’s tenure at Birmingham City might only be seven games old, but already he faces a crisis of identity after Saturday’s humiliating televised 5-0 defeat at home to Barnsley. The next few weeks could be a pivotal period in his managerial career.
When Clark replaced Chris Hughton at St Andrew’s in the summer, he did so knowing that his predecessor had done a fine job under difficult circumstances. Against a backdrop of financial uncertainty and in spite of a punishing schedule, the Blues had shown great consistency and stamina to reach the play-offs.
Naturally, Clark was loathe to rip up the blueprint and start all over again. He inherited a team that had proven its Championship credentials and though the club was under transfer embargo when he arrived, the situation was nothing like as disconcerting as it had been the previous summer.
Soon enough, the embargo was lifted and Clark was able to do business. Peter Lovenkrands, Hayden Mullins and Darren Ambrose were quickly recruited, underlining the calibre of player that Birmingham can still attract with the benefit of the Premier League’s new parachute payments.
With no European commitments this time around, it wasn’t too fanciful for Blues to be targeting an automatic promotion spot. In Clark’s own words: “I’m looking to create the same atmosphere Chris Hughton had about the place. I’m hoping we can carry on that momentum and just get that little bit of luck you need to get over the line.”
In his own mind, Clark no doubt drew comparisons with the situation at Huddersfield where he considered himself to be doing a fine job until he was dismissed shortly after completing a 43-match unbeaten run. Simon Grayson stepped in, careful of the need to tread carefully, and three months later he secured promotion via the play-offs with the team that Clark built.
The trouble is, Lee Clark isn’t Simon Grayson. The difference between the Huddersfield team that so often flattered to deceive under the Geordie and the one that finally got over the line at Wembley in May might have been subtle, but it was considered and deliberate. The dynamic was altered and the difference was more than just luck.
Another problem is that Lee Clark isn’t Chris Hughton either, and Hughton’s greatest qualities as a manager tend to arise from the understated traits in his personality. He’s not the sort of character that can be copied. Hughton might have built a team capable of challenging for promotion but that doesn’t mean it will challenge for promotion without him in charge.
All of which begs the question: who, indeed, is Lee Clark? It’s a question that Clark really needs to ask himself before he reacts to that embarrassing display against the Tykes. Based on what we’ve seen over the past four years, Clark has some great qualities, but few of them are the sort that you come to associate with leadership.
He’s an excellent coach on the training field, that was the foundation upon which he was awarded his big break at Huddersfield. He’s clued-up when it comes to sports science, as illustrated by an excellent record for keeping players off the treatment table at the Galpharm. And he clearly has a keen eye for spotting potential. Jordan Rhodes, Anthony Pilkington, Lee Novak, Jack Hunt and Danny Ward are testimony to that.
But when it comes inspiration, motivation and tactical innovation, Clark’s caricature becomes a little hazy. When you listen to audio clips of his post-match interviews, insight isn’t easy to come by. He rarely has anything particularly interesting or different to say. He’ll tell you what’s wrong with a performance, but seldom does he talk in terms of specifics and much less does he offer any indication about solutions.
As a punter who craves such insight as a tool to identify future trends, Clark’s banality can be frustrating. One can only guess these sentiments are shared by his players and that’s precisely why the defeat against Barnsley constitutes a crisis. Lee Clark has tried being Chris Hughton and it hasn’t worked. Now he has to stamp his own set of values on the dressing room – whatever they might be – and hope for a better outcome.Tagged in: Birmingham, championship, football, lee clark
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