History suggests that the step up from No 2 at a football club to No 1 can be particularly slippery. It was Sir Alex Ferguson who suggested that Brian Kidd, so successful as his assistant at Old Trafford and now alongside Roberto Mancini at Manchester City, might struggle with the "constant demand for hard, often unpopular, decisions" that being a manager brings. So it proved as Kidd led Blackburn Rovers to relegation in 1999.
Yet, as Roberto Di Matteo showed after replacing Andre Villas-Boas at Chelsea in February, there are exceptions and another Stamford Bridge alumnus, Steve Clarke, may well provide another, judging by the start he has made at West Bromwich Albion.
Clarke, whose CV is headed by his time as Jose Mourinho's No 2 at Chelsea and also includes assistant roles at Newcastle, West Ham and Liverpool, has hit the ground running at the Hawthorns. Saturday's victory over Everton followed a 3-0 opening-day success over Liverpool and a draw at Tottenham; together this represents Albion's best start to a top-flight campaign since 1978.
"The second you meet him you realise he's definitely a manager," said Shane Long, scorer of the opening goal on Saturday, who spoke appreciatively of Clarke's calm, assured approach. "He's quiet enough but if anything needs saying, he says it. The style of football he plays is all about passing, passing and more passing. It's all about having confidence in ourselves and he's instilled that into us."
That verdict was echoed by forward Peter Odemwingie. "He doesn't look like he's just starting," said Odemwingie, who explained that a "key difference" from Clarke's predecessor, Roy Hodgson, was the increased focus on passing work on the training pitch. "The boys are really enjoying his training and you can see our passing game has really improved. He said the goal was to build on our organisation and to almost double the number of passes that we make in every game. It helps you recover faster and create more chances." Encouragingly, Odemwingie's superb cross for Long's opener came at the end of a swift, incisive passing move.
According to the Nigerian, Albion are also benefiting from Clarke's ambitious outlook yet the Scot has been wise enough to keep in place the defensive shape put in place by Hodgson. Clarke acknowledged as much when he said: "I didn't see a great reason to go in and rip everything up and start again – there was no reason, there was a solid platform already there." Albion have conceded only one, deflected, goal in three league games and frustrated Marouane Fellaini and company with a fine defensive performance that showcased the influence of their new Argentinian holding midfielder Claudio Yacob – a free signing from Racing Club – and, moreover, underlined just why the Hawthorns club were willing to hold on to Sweden centre-back Jonas Olsson, despite his entering the final year of his contract.
Saturday also provided evidence that Clarke has decent attacking options in reserve given that substitutes Odemwingie and Chris Brunt set up the two goals, Zoltan Gera and Sweden striker Markus Rosenberg remained on the bench and Romelu Lukaku was unavailable.
"If you are winning games, it is easier," said Clarke of his new task of keeping a squad of players happy. Those hard, unpopular decisions can wait for now.
WBA: FOSTER 6/10; REID 6; McAULEY 8; OLSSON 8; RIDGEWELL 6; DORRANS 5; YACOB 7; MULUMBU 7; MORRISON 6; FORTUNE6; LONG 7
Everton: HOWARD 6; BAINES 6; DISTIN 6; JAGIELKA 7; NEVILLE 5; PIENAAR 5; OSMAN 6; GIBSON 6; NAISMITH 5; FELLAINI 6; JELAVIC 5
Goals: West Bromwich Albion Long 65, McAuley 82.
Subs: WBA Jones 6 (Reid, 52), Odemwingie 7 (Dorrans, 58), Brunt (Long, 75). Everton Hibbert 5 (Gibson, 20), Mirallas 6 (Naismith, 62), Anichebe (Neville, 73). Booked: WBA Reid. Eve Hibbert, Distin, Neville, Fellaini. Man of match Olsson. Match rating 6/10. Poss: WBA 44%. Eve 56%. Attempts on target: WBA 8. Eve 5. Ref J Moss (W Yorks). Att 25,383.Reuse content