Steve Clarke last night bemoaned his sacking by West Bromwich Albion on Saturday evening, claiming he felt he could still be a success at the club.
“I believe I have unfinished business at West Bromwich Albion Football Club so it is with deep regret that I was relieved of my duties as head coach,” he said. “I could not have been better prepared for my first job in management after over 14 years coaching experience learning from some of the great managers in the modern era. It was certainly a challenge to succeed Roy Hodgson, having been appointed England manager.
Clarke also said that he was a victim of his own success having guided West Bromwich to an eighth-placed finish in last season’s Premier League.
“Going into this season expectations were high, perhaps unrealistically so, but with it still being only our fourth consecutive season in the top flight, our primary objective had to be establishing our status in the league. I was, and remain, convinced that we were well placed to achieve this aim.”
Clarke and his assistant Kevin Keen have both been placed on gardening leave after being informed of their departures after the 1-0 defeat to Cardiff – their fourth successive league loss. Roberto Di Matteo and Martin Jol are the early favourites to replace him, although Di Matteo is not in the club’s thoughts.
The chief executive of the League Managers Association, Richard Bevan, agreed that Clarke is the latest victim of “raised expectations”.
Bevan believes the former Chelsea and Liverpool assistant can count himself unlucky to have lost his job, having guided West Bromwich to their highest league finish for more than 30 years last season.
“We are very sad for Steve, as he has only been given 18 months in his first managerial position during which he has achieved some real successes,” said Bevan. “Perhaps his dismissal is another example of a coach getting more out of his team than anyone expected and then, when results start to take a down-turn, the raised expectations count against him.”
Clarke becomes the fourth Premier League manager to leave his post this season after Paolo Di Canio, Ian Holloway and Jol. Yet while that trio were all at clubs mired in the bottom three, West Brom are 16th – two points clear of the relegation zone – and won at Old Trafford for the first time since 1978 earlier in the season.
Clarke’s decision to criticise chairman Jeremy Peace last month for failing to secure more of their transfer targets in the summer was not received well, with more than £12m spent on Stéphane Sessègnon and Victor Anichebe on the final day of the window. Yet the decision to relieve him of his duties still came as a shock, particularly given that there is no imminent successor lined up.
Di Matteo – who was sacked in 2011 having guided West Brom to promotion the previous season – is not on Peace and sporting and technical director Richard Garlick’s shortlist, with the former Chelsea manager also being paid £130,000 a week as part of his pay-off from Stamford Bridge. Jol, who spent two years at the club as a player in the 1980s, is available having left Fulham this month. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is a candidate having guided Molde to the Norwegian cup this season.
The sack race: No Christmas cheer
Not since 2008 have four Premier League managers parted company with their clubs before Christmas when Alan Curbishley, Kevin Keegan, Juande Ramos, Paul Ince and Harry Redknapp all left their posts
2013-14 (up to 15 Dec)
Premier League: 4; Overall: 21
Premier League: 2; Overall: 24
Premier League: 1; Overall: 14
Premier League: 3; Overall: 18
Premier League: 2; Overall: 19
PL exits: 5; Overall: 24
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