Clarke is at his happiest when he is on a training pitch, working with players

Credit: PA

Steve Clarke is not the sort of coach to trumpet his own talents, so it is useful that others are more than happy to do the job for him.

For his former players his "attention to detail is second to none" (James Morrison), with a brain that "tactically, held all the aces" (Gareth McAuley). And for the men he worked for, such as Jose Mourinho at Chelsea, he was simply "incredible".

Good luck persuading Clarke to either endorse these messages of support, or to whip up an atmosphere of frenzy before the biggest game of his coaching career, Scotland’s meeting with England at Wembley tomorrow.

The fact is that Clarke, at 57, is at his happiest when he is on a training pitch, working with players, complete with his whistle and clipboard, or locked away in his managerial bunker, strategising for the next match. 

“Steve was the first manager I’d ever had who did all the analysis and preparation on a computer," says Morrison, the former Scotland midfielder who played under Clarke at West Brom. "He did all the presentations himself before matches and in those days that was hard to do.

“He was very structured, we had a system that suited us and every player knew their jobs. Nobody was ever under any doubt what the tactics were, or how to play against opponents.”

Clarke will have prepared meticulously for Scotland’s date with destiny at Wembley, where – despite that crushing defeat to Czech Republic at Hampden Park – his players will inevitably be well organised and aware of any potential weaknesses in England’s team.

He once described himself as “a decent manager and a very good coach” and his education has been broad, working alongside the likes of Ruud Gullit and Kenny Dalglish, yet it was under Mourinho at Chelsea where Clarke first established himself.

When the Portuguese was appointed amid popping flashbulbs in the summer of 2004, he brought in his own Portuguese contingent: Rui Faria, Baltemar Brito [who played for Mourinho’s father], Silvino Louro and scout Andre Villas-Boas. But Chelsea wanted some British continuity on the backroom staff and Clarke, already popular with fans having made over 300 appearances for the club as a player, was promoted from the academy to the first team.

It quickly became clear to Mourinho that Clarke was far more than just the token Brit: he played an integral role in Mourinho’s magic carpet ride of success in that first spell, when Chelsea swept up two Premier League titles, an FA Cup and two League Cups. Even now, Mourinho remains a firm fan, recently observing on talkSPORT: "He is not just a good man in relation to football – he is Mr Pragmatism. He knows what he wants and he knows how to do it."

Clarke completed his pro-license qualification in 2006, yet it was not until six years later that he was finally given an opportunity to be the main man. Burnley had interviewed him extensively shortly before then, while Leicester’s Milan Mandaric also held talks.

But it was West Brom, reeling from the departure of Roy Hodgson to England, who gave him a chance. Clarke was fly-fishing for trout on Rutland Water, with father Eddie and brother Paul, when he broke away to hold further talks with Dan Ashworth, Albion’s technical director at the time.

Forty-eight hours later he was given the job and it did not take him long to make an instant impression with a 3-0 win over Liverpool on the opening day. Clarke utilised his contacts book to sign Romelu Lukaku, then 19, on loan from Chelsea, who was a revelation.

Clarke is meticulous in his planning and makes sure his players are fully informed


“In every game he had a different plan, with a clear message,” says McAuley, the centre-half who played 36 Premier League games for Clarke that season. “Even when we were doing small-sided games I would always have the players in front of me or around me that would be on the pitch in games, so it was all about building relationships. It’s no surprise to me that he’s done so well with Scotland."

Another of Clarke’s strengths to emerge from his time as a manager has been his loyalty to the squad, and a determination to protect them at all costs – a point underlined by his impassioned defence of David Marshall, who was lobbed by Patrik Schick from 50 yards in the defeat by the Czechs.

At West Brom, Clarke chose to welcome back Peter Odemwingie after the striker’s move to QPR in 2013 broke down on transfer deadline day amid farcical scenes, and despite opposition from the board. Later, when Adrian Chiles, the TV presenter and West Brom fan, insulted Odemwingie at an awards night, Clarke made a point of defending him in a press conference.

Clarke led Albion to the giddy heights of eighth in the Premier League, before things went awry the following season and Clarke was sacked after a fourth defeat in a row, against Cardiff. He was given the news when the team bus returned to the training ground in Walsall, and allegedly had to make his own way home after being told to hand over his car keys.
“I was raging when he left, as a lot of the other players were,” recalls McAuley. “It was a huge mistake that we never built on what Steve put in place.”

Yet, typical of the man, Clarke’s recovery has been impressive: he led Reading to a first FA Cup semi-final in 88 years, and took Kilmarnock into Europe for the first time in almost two decades. It was his work in Ayrshire which persuaded Scotland to summon him to lead his country, but in truth, Clarke has been building quietly towards this moment all his coaching career. 

As England await in his former adopted city, few doubt he is ready.