There’s A Good Reason Why The Steve Clarke “What If?” Intrigues A Lot Of Celtic Fans.

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Scotland’s performance in the Euro qualifiers exceeded the expectations of every single fan. The national team is in better shape than I can ever remember it. Steve Clarke has done an exceptional job moulding it to his style and his needs.

Those needs are not the same as Celtic’s, but such has been his success with Scotland that it has naturally inspired questions about what he might have been capable of had we approached him before we did Ange, and given him the backing to succeed.

Let’s be honest; this club would look radically different had Steve Clarke been in charge. The pure entertainment of the Ange years would have been greatly lessened. But would we have been successful? And more importantly, when you look at his results against decent teams with this Scotland squad, would we have done it in Europe?

That, I think, is why this question, this issue, feels current.

Clarke’s teams are organised and disciplined. He’s a football pragmatist, not a romantic and in these last few years we’ve gone down the route of having the romantics in charge. These guys want to play front-foot attacking stuff.

I wouldn’t call Clarke’s teams overly defensive, but they are the sort of sides who can soak up pressure, hit on the break and smash and grab wins.

It’s obvious that this system would change the way we approach games in Europe. Would it necessarily be better? Would we get results? It’s difficult to answer that question because whatever way you dress this team up, we’re still majorly outgunned.

One way to approach it thought is to think about the composition of our team, and this brings you close to an answer. We play with two wide attackers and one attacking midfielder behind the central striker. Scotland doesn’t line up like that at all.

In fact, when Tierney and Robertson are fit, Scotland lines up with a back five and a central midfield three.

Can you imagine Celtic playing like that? For a start, the midfield three presents us with problems because we don’t have enough of them to play the holding role. Scotland, in contrast, usually lines up with McGregor, McTominay and McGinn.

The whole structure of this team would have been upended had Clarke run the show. There is no doubt that he’d have been an effective manager – we’re hard enough to beat right now domestically; he would have made us much, much tougher to get goals against – and that he’d have been a trophy winning boss, but I wonder how many bankable assets we’d have, and I know we’d not nearly have gotten so much pleasure out of the last two seasons.

The football would have been nowhere near as exhilarating.

I very much doubt we’d have tapped the Asian market in any meaningful way, although that too is hard to know because an international manager doesn’t do his team-building in the same way as a club boss, for obvious reasons. But Clarke’s focus on the English leagues is telling.

It’s really easy to watch our Champions League performances and look over our results and wish for a different system, something that makes us a tougher opponent and one that can grind it out. But if you look at the makeup of our squad right now, and if you consider the players we’re all enjoying so much, you can see where the difficult lies.

There would be no Palma, Kyogo, Maeda, Abada or any of the other entertainers. We’d have signed grafters. Aggressive, physical players.

The manager would have constructed a team to suit his system and his system is not the pedal to the metal style of football Celtic fans are used to see it. This has ever been the issue; we can either have this sort of team or we can have one that is more practical and defensive in nature, and even that doesn’t bring any guarantees.

Who is to say what a team with five at the back would have done in Madrid? Or what it might do in Rome? And maybe at some stage we’ll find out, if Rodgers decides he wants to experiment with the tactics a bit.

But we’ll retain our attacking identity either way.

What Clarke has definitely proved, of course, is that he’s a supremely talented manager and a good candidate for any half decent club job which becomes available, and so the SFA are going to have a hell of a time hanging onto the guy.

When you think of the job he could have done at Hibs, Hearts or Aberdeen you can see that they all missed out in a big way, and it’s well past too late for them to change that, because when he does decide to return to club football there will be better offers available to him than those sides are presently able to muster, and that’s a shame.

The question as to whether or not he’s got the stuff to do it at Celtic has been answered, I think, by his international accomplishments; he’s done a fantastic job and would have been successful as the manager of our club, and really, I don’t doubt it.

But I can’t honestly say I regret it as a path not chosen, not when we got Ange and now Brendan Rodgers back in the dugout. Things have worked out pretty well all round, but I understand why for some people it’s something to contemplate.

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  • Joseph McLaughlin says:

    Most Celtic supporters I know don’t want Clark’s style of play anywhere near us. His time at Kilmarnock brought some success but was dire to watch.

  • Jim says:

    The Lisbon Lions were a never-to-be-repeated miracle. The next Celtic manager who achieves anything in Europe will be pragmatic, like Martin O’Neill.
    Clark is a brilliant manager. If the stars ever align, we should go for him.

  • Jimmy R says:

    I admire Stevie Clarke and what he has done for Scotland after taking over from McLeish. However, his football is much more akin to Steven Robertson’s style That will be the same the Stephen Robertson who was lamenting having to play in the group stages of the league cup because his teams are not set up to control possession of the ball, therefore they struggled against the lesser teams who sat in, defended in depth and squeezed the space in the final third. We don’t need sitting midfielders playing in front of packed defences. We need incisive players who can play through the lines and run beyond the strikers to turn defences. The Clarke / Robinson style maximises the talents of the less talented. It would waste the talents we have at our disposal. Either that or these talents would never have been signed in the first place. Think what we would have missed. In Europe, perhaps we need the personnel and mindset change required to adopt a more pragmatic approach, more akin to the Clarke / Robinson style. Because in the Champions League we are the equivilent to St Mirren or Kilmarnock in the SPFL. I would like to see us be more competitive in Europe. I would hate to see us play boring football (every week) in domestic matches.

  • cheezydee says:

    It’s a complete non starter. He said a few years back that he wasn’t interested in the nonsense of the “old firm” teams, and wouldn’t bring any of it on to his family. This was when he was linked with us before.

  • Michael McCartney says:

    Stevie Clarke is a very smart pragmatic manager, to me he has proved with Kilmarnock and Scotland that he can tailor his tactics to suit the players at his disposal. If some years down the line the Celtic job was vacant and he was available, I’ve got no doubt he would be a successful manager with us.
    In Scottish football I’m pretty sure with more attack minded players at Celtic he would change his tactics accordingly.

  • SSMPM says:

    OMG what a thought. His style, a very loose perception of the word, is more suited to how the huns play. Rugid and defensively minded kickass football’s not for me, though I do think he’d do well there with the support of the refs and the backing of their SFA paymasters assured. If you like watching them off you go & see how long it takes before you come back to watch a team that tries to play open entertaining football with associated winning results.
    Maybe with a few bob from the midden club to buy better, wiser or players that more suits his style, there’s that word again, he’d probably do better than some of their more recent managers. So aye I reckon he’d achieve more than them.
    Maybe though it’s as simple as what tradition you’ve grown up with but I’ve not grown up with that ‘style’.
    I’m not going to go all out to on him and he’s achieved more up here with relative budgets than he ever did with the clubs he managed down south. As Scottish managers of clubs in the English leagues go I believe Alex Neil was/is held in higher regard and he was/is as highly thought as Lambert. Maybe not. Enjoy.
    It’s simply not the Celtic Way.
    He’s getting results, sometimes. He’s got this squad achieving or kicking above their weight and though in this campaign fortune has favoured Scotland just wait ’til the Euro group stage starts, as evidenced by the last group stage capitulation.
    If this is one of your debating society efforts the winning argument, as a Celtic supporter, has to be no. Hell no.

    • Adam Thomas says:

      Do you know H u #s is now an offence by law don’t be a h #n and show us the celtic support we are not like them .

  • Clachnacuddin and the Hoops says:

    Like everyone else I want to win by entertainment football but it doesn’t always work that way I’m afraid…

    Look at the team the late great Tommy Burns – God rest him – put out there…

    Flamboyant, Exhilarating, Awesome to watch but only achieved one trophy outta nine –

    Yet ‘The Man With No Surname’ (Walter) won everything with a Stevie Clarke type team…

    What would I personally rather ?

    Silverware any day – as long as it wasn’t cheating…

    Which it turns out was cheating ‘financially’ at least –

    Yet the awful football by Rangers (deceased c.2012) won everything…

    Aye – it’s a strange and cruel world is the football one !

  • Ay.lo says:

    Steve is brilliant manager who has been adjusting the Scotland system to suit his players, rather than the other way round.
    If we had given him an offer he couldn’t refuse, for one season only, he’d have got the 10 over the line.

  • Allan Dobbs says:

    Yes Steve Clarke has done a brilliant job with and I have no doubt he would have been great for Celtic,hopefully in the future he gets that chance

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