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Scotland's leader - 'It suits him for people to think he's a dry shite or doesn't show emotion'

While some Scotland players have spoken about seeking revenge, manager Steve Clarke is not the type to be blinded by emotion facing Ireland.

Jose Mourniho (left), Damien Duff (centre) and Steve Clarke.
Jose Mourniho (left), Damien Duff (centre) and Steve Clarke.
Image: Mike Egerton

STEVE CLARKE IS a master of the understated.

And with good reason.

He is by no means a chest-thumping, Proclaimers-loving, Braveheart-rewatching kind of Scotland manager.

“That suits him down to the ground that people might look at how he is and say he’s a bit of a dry shite or doesn’t show emotion,” Gary Dicker, the Dubliner who captained Kilmarnock under him, laughs.

Even when Clarke informed his skipper he would be leaving for his country’s top job he did so with little fuss.

“I was in the shower in the dressing rooms. Of course b*****k naked. Usually when a manager is in there, it’s because there is a row going on and he’s reefed you off at half-time.”

At the end of March, the Edinburgh Evening News were lauding the work Clarke had done in helping to reconnect the Scottish public with their team.

kilmarnock-v-celtic-ladbrokes-scottish-premiership-rugby-park Gary Dicker (right) alongside former manager and Scotland boss Steve Clarke (left) and Kris Boyd (centre). Source: Jeff Holmes

Before the summer, he was hailed because of a superior win percentage (51.5% over 33 games) to some of the biggest managerial names in history.

Matt Busby took charge of two games for his country in 1958 with a 50% success rate.

Jock Stein (61 games) was on 42.6%, Alex Ferguson’s 10 games from 1985-86 saw him finish on 30%, while the last manager to lead the country to the World Cup, Craig Brown, boasted 45.1% from 71 matches.

Despite the European Championships in the summer of 2021 being something of a let-down – losing home games to Czech Republic and Croatia with a credible draw away to England at Wembley in between – Clarke had made Scotland a team to be proud of again.

An impressive 2-0 victory over Denmark in Glasgow at the end of the November which followed ensured a seeded spot in the World Cup play-off semi-final.

Dreams of following in Brown’s footsteps, who brought his country to France 1998, evaporated at Hampden Park when Ukraine, amid the emotional and catastrophic backdrop of the Russian invasion, triumphed 3-1.

All of a sudden, Clarke’s Scotland bubble was burst.

republic-of-ireland-v-scotland-uefa-nations-league-group-1-aviva-stadium Stephen Kenny (left) with Steve Clarke in Dublin. Source: PA

After initial compassion shown in the aftermath, critics rounded on the manager after his side were blown away 3-0 by Ireland in Dublin 10 days later.

“Ireland are spectacularly limited . . . this was a disgrace,” read one headline the morning after the defeat.

“A disgrace, an absolute disgrace of a performance. The kind of cowardly, disjointed shambles that lands many managers the sack,” the analysis below that headline began.

“What a disaster it was. Against an Ireland team best described as a ‘Who’s That?’ of international football.”

This week, though, Scotland bounced back with their most impressive display of the Nations League campaign – perhaps even since he took over in May 2019 – by easing past Ukraine 3-0.

Lyndon Dykes came off the bench to net a brace and declared afterwards: “We’ve got one to give Ireland.”

Revenge is not quite a sentiment that Clarke likes to revel in.

“Not at all. Not a chance,” Dicker, who is now coaching with Brighton’s Under-18s, insists. “He will always be the same. No matter who you’re playing.

“The big thing for him is to always respect who you are playing against. Whether it’s Ireland or Brazil the thinking will be the same.

“There is no fear, but respect. He is not one for revenge.

When he does speak, the team talks are good, but it won’t be with anger and he won’t see it as revenge. He won’t get caught up in that. It’s not his style.”

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Clarke worked side by side with Jose Mourinho at Chelsea when they became kings of England, Bobby Robson kept him on board at Newcastle when he replaced Ruud Gullit, while fellow Scot Kenny Dalglish asked him to be his No.2 at Liverpool when he returned to Anfield just over a decade ago.

Clarke eventually became the main man, first at West Brom in the Premier League and then Reading, before rebuilding his managerial career at Kilmarnock in 2017 when they were bottom of the table.

By the time he left for the Scotland job in May 2019 he had just led them to finish third for the first time since 1966.

“The career he has had as a player, coach and manager, the people he has worked for, some people would be doing cartwheels about that and shouting to let you know,” Dicker says.

“That’s not who he is. After six months of sussing people out at Kilmarnock, eventually you could go to him and talk about all that, then he would be in the thick of things – to a point – with players.

soccer-carling-cup-final-cardiff-city-v-liverpool-wembley-stadium Clarke (left) with Kenny Dalglish (centre) and Kevin Keen (right) after winning the League Cup with Liverpool. Source: PA

“He made sure his work was always done and you wouldn’t notice him on the sidelines during a game because he doesn’t need to bark.

“Although he is a bit more animated with Scotland, maybe because he doesn’t get as much time with the players.

“What I’ve learned from him as a manager and coach is that he is comfortable in himself, first of all as a person and then as the coach and manager.

“You can get a lot of them who are not comfortable in who they really are and try to be something they’re not,” Dicker says.

“His team seems to be able to reflect that confidence he has in himself.”

Ireland will have to put it to the test tonight.

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