Steve Clarke happy at finally reaching no 1

The new West Brom manager has made his name as an accomplished assistant to the likes of Dalglish and Mourinho. He talks to Sam Wallace about what he has learned and why he's ready to go solo

He is the man who has stood alongside some of football's most famous managers and developed a reputation as one of the best assistants in the business: loyal, discreet, a sophisticated coach and an astute handler of dressing rooms full of superstar players. Today, for only the second time in a 30-year football career, it will be Steve Clarke who is picking the team.

The new West Bromwich Albion head coach – to give him his full title – was a caretaker manager for one game at Newcastle United in 1999 but otherwise this is a managerial debut for the man who has been No 2 to the likes of Jose Mourinho, Kenny Dalglish, Gianfranco Zola and Ruud Gullit. He has always hoped the chance to be boss would come sooner but now that it is here, he is more than ready.

One of the ironies about Clarke's career as the man in the background – that has followed a distinguished playing career at St Mirren and Chelsea – is that it has landed him with an unwarranted reputation for, he jokes, being "dour". "When you get to know me I am all right, you know?" he says. "I'm personable and agreeable! I can have my moments like everyone else. As a manager or head coach it is really important for me to be myself."

The offer from Dan Ashworth, West Brom's director of football, and chairman Jeremy Peace to be the man in charge was a long time coming. Clarke had hoped to make the step up when he left Chelsea in 2008 after four years as an assistant at the club. Luiz Felipe Scolari had brought in his own staff and sidelined Clarke although there are no hard feelings on that score. He has seen enough in his time just at Chelsea to know how quickly things can change.

In the end, he joined West Ham United as assistant to Zola in September 2008 to take himself, he says, "out the comfort zone" at a club at which, unlike Chelsea, he did not have the benefit of having been a player. Clarke is seventh on Chelsea's all-time appearances and a favourite among the fans. He was talked into staying another season at West Ham and then in June 2010 was sacked, with Zola, despite the team having avoided relegation.

Contemplating his first league game in charge of West Brom at the club's training ground yesterday, the memories of leaving Liverpool were still fresh. He spent a tumultuous 18 months alongside Dalglish, until it was brought to an end in May when the owners Fenway Sports Group sacked the manager. In Clarke's case, his time at Liverpool was abruptly terminated a couple of weeks later, with "a call from the girl in Human Resources".

Originally, Clarke had been offered the Liverpool assistant's job by Damien Comolli in January last year. After seven months out of the game, he considered it a "no-brainer": "Initially it was sold to me as a short-term deal, January to May. There was no talk of 'if you do well, you get an extension'. Kenny and I attacked the job with great enthusiasm and gusto. It picked up and we finished the season really well.

"I don't need to tell you the size of Kenny Dalglish in relation to Liverpool Football Club. The owners were put in a situation where they felt obliged that the only way to continue was to give Kenny the job full-time which included a full-time contract for me.

"I was happy to sign it. My wife and I had a lovely flat in the city. I was enjoying the job and working with a really good bunch of players. We reached two cup finals. That was a good season. Some highs along the way getting to those finals. It was a big low to lose the FA Cup final, a massive high to win the first trophy [the League Cup] in six years and then the disappointment of the league campaign.

"The league campaign is a strange one to put your finger on. We played so well in so many games and didn't get results. Which is a failing in ourselves. I'm not saying we were unlucky because ultimately in the league you finish where you deserve to finish. There were some crucial turning points. Just after we won the League Cup we played Arsenal in the league [on 3 March]. It was a massive game.

"If we had won we were in touching distance of the top four and would have put ourselves back in contention. We played really well and lost 2-1 to a last-minute Robin Van Persie goal. From that moment the disappointment of the group was too much to overcome and the players realised they weren't going to bridge that gap to the top four.

"There were so many good teams ahead of them and I put that down as the defining moment when the league campaign faltered and from then we didn't pick up many points. It was a decision [to sack Dalglish] that the owners decided to make. They put a lot of money into the club.

"It was a big decision to get rid of Kenny because he has got legendary status in the city. I was at the game at FC Gomel and five or six times they sung the name Dalglish and that, I think, is just to let him know that they still love him and they don't hold any grudges for last season.

"The owner decided to make the change, that's just the way football has become. Kenny said to me, 'Don't you go, you might get a chance to work with the new manager'. Briefly I spoke to Brendan [Rodgers] because he was linked with the job and he said 'Don't do anything silly because you never know'. Out of nowhere I got a phone-call from the girl from HR and they said 'We are going to let you go'."

In defence of Ian Ayre, the club's managing director, Clarke says Ayre later told him he had tried and failed to get hold of Clarke during the day in question. "He wanted me to know that day so he got someone to call me and tell me. You take it on the chin."

As for the other big episode of the season? "I don't want to go on too much on the Luis Suarez incident," Clarke says. "It had an influence on the season at Liverpool and possibly the owners' decision to make changes but it would be wrong to say it was Kenny's fault. I don't think he was given enough protection by the club. The club should have someone a little bit more experienced in that line, and those matters. I'm sure if everybody could go back to the beginning of that episode the whole thing would be handled completely differently."

A thoughtful man, who weighs his words carefully, Clarke, 48, is yet another Scot who has graduated to management. In his case he began his working life by completing a four -year apprenticeship as an instrument technician at what is now Glaxo in Irvine, in his native Ayrshire, and it gave him a valuable grounding in dealing with different characters.

He has specialised as a coach and under Dalglish at Liverpool and Avram Grant at Chelsea he was responsible for taking training. Under Mourinho, who liked to coach himself, he would be put in charge of part of the group during sessions and encouraged to put his own ideas into the drills prescribed by Mourinho. At West Brom he does "90 per cent" of the coaching but also tries to pass responsibility to his assistants Keith Downing and Kevin Keen.

As usual, West Brom have done their transfer business in good time and without fuss. Claudio Yacob, 25, a former Argentine international signed from Racing Club, could well make his league debut today. Markus Rosenburg, 29, a Swedish striker signed from Werder Bremen, and Romelu Lukaku, on loan from Chelsea, may have to wait a bit longer. Ben Foster, on loan from Birmingham City last season, has made the move permanent, which Clarke said was his priority when he took over.

Another triumph has been holding on to the likes of Youssouf Mulumbu and Peter Odemwingie. Jonas Olsson has only one year left on his contract and his departure has been a possibility but, with two weeks of the transfer window left, Clarke says he is "as confident as I can be" that the Swedish centre-half will stay.

Roy Hodgson set the bar high with a 10th-place finish last season and 11th the year before, both achieved with 47 points. This season will not be easy, Clarke has no doubt about that, especially when newly-promoted Southampton can spend £12m on Gaston Ramirez. But he has great belief in his players and West Brom's successful approach to staying in the division on a realistic budget.

"I want to be in charge of a good team and one that plays football to excite the public. If it was only fantasy football everyone would play like Barcelona but it's a results-driven industry. I'm responsible for West Bromwich Albion and making sure they retain Premier League status. Along the way I would like to have some games where the crowd go away and are genuinely excited by the way the team has played."

He has exchanged texts with Mourinho over the summer, mainly discussing potential signings and their suitability for the Premier League, but after a lifetime in the game, Clarke does not need advice about how to run a football club.

"Managers like Jose have such a profile in the media, the questions will always be about my time working with him. Hopefully in a few years time they are talking about Steve Clarke, the manager or the head coach. As long as they talk about what I have achieved and what I have done that would be great."

My other life

"You might be a little surprised but I get my relaxation by fly-fishing. I like to get out on a boat on a reservoir – the larger the better – and catch a few trout. It used to be golf but then I found it wasn't so relaxing. It's a four-mile walk and sometimes you hit shots you didn't want to hit."

peopleFrankie Boyle responds to referendum result in characteristically offensive style
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
New Articles
i100... with this review
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Holly's review of Peterborough's Pizza Express quickly went viral on social media
footballTim Sherwood: This might be th match to wake up Manchester City
Arts and Entertainment
musicHow female vocalists are now writing their own hits
New Articles
Arts and Entertainment
musicBiographer Hunter Davies has collected nearly a hundred original manuscripts
Blahnik says: 'I think I understand the English more than they do themselves'
Arts and Entertainment
Michelle Dockery as Lady Mary Crawley in Downton Abbey
TVInside Downton Abbey series 5
Life and Style
The term 'normcore' was given the oxygen of publicity by New York magazine during the autumn/winter shows in Paris in February
fashionWhen is a trend a non-trend? When it's Normcore, since you ask
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam