History

Scotland manager Steve Clarke recalls first coaching steps

Following the appointment of Steve Clarke as manager of the Scottish national team, we look back at an interview with the Blues legend when he discussed his transition from player to coach at Stamford Bridge and beyond.

There seems to be almost universal acclaim for the appointment of a man who won some of the game’s biggest honours during both playing and coaching spells here in west London, following a successful first full season at Kilmarnock in what was only the third managerial role of a backroom career which began 21 years ago.

During his playing career he represented only two clubs, St Mirren and Chelsea, joining us in 1987 and, after featuring in the last Blues side to be relegated a year later, he went on to enjoy some incredible moments with the club.

Chosen as Player of the Year in 1994 as we reached the FA Cup final for the first time in 24 years, Clarke was even more influential three years later as we finally lifted the trophy again, with then player-manager Ruud Gullit declaring him to be as important as any of the overseas superstars he had recruited.

By the time he hung up his boots in 1998, he had appeared in 421 matches for Chelsea, a tally which had only been bettered by three players at the time. It took until his last 42 games to win a major trophy, but he ended up with three – including the 1998 Cup Winners' Cup, in his final outing as a player.

That is when Clarke’s coaching journey began. We pick up the story from later that summer, as told in an interview for the book Blue Day, which looked back at the careers of the men who led us to FA Cup glory in 1997.

These quotes didn’t make the final cut of the book, but here they are for the first time as he prepares to take charge of his first game as Scotland manager, when they host Cyprus on Saturday 8 June.

‘That summer I went to Bermuda, just a little break and Luca [Vialli] invited me to join the staff,’ he said. ‘So I was to become player-coach the following season. That was telling me I was getting bumped out of the team. They brought in Chapi Ferrer, Marcel Desailly. I was looking as though I was just going to be a bit-part.

‘I actually struggled all pre-season with an injury. I had plantar fasciitis, which is quite a serious injury. I couldn't flex my foot so I couldn't really run properly. I was playing through a lot of pain. I couldn't fix it, couldn't get rid of it. Getting niggles with my back...

‘Then I got a phone call – did I want to go to Newcastle? I wasn't doing any coaching. It was: “Clarkey take the warm-up.” All the lads were looking at me, but Wisey was the one to say it: “What are you doing?!”

‘”I don't know, but it doesn't look as though I'm going to play much.” Then we were in Monaco for the Super Cup – I wasn't going to play. And Ruud phoned me up and asked if I wanted to go to Newcastle as assistant manager.

‘That was one of those decisions I make like that [Clicks fingers]. Once I'd set my mind on it, I went to see Colin Hutchinson. They didn’t want me to go, but they knew I wanted to leave and on the way out they were great. No problems, off you go – but on the condition I couldn't join Newcastle as a player. I registered as an amateur, just in case.

‘Ruud didn't want me playing, but if I rested my injury for six months and it was all right, maybe I could play some reserve games just for fitness or whatever. I never played again. That was me finished.

‘My last competitive game was the Cup Winners' Cup final. Now, looking back on it, it's quite a good way to finish. But it wasn't a plan, it's just the way it happened. I never set out to say it was the last game.

‘Working with Ruud was good and I enjoyed it. He'd been there a week or 10 days before me, and by the time I got there he'd fallen out with everybody! It was always going to be a tough job. But for me it's something I look at as another part of my education.

‘I was out of my comfort zone, something I like to do every now and then, something completely different. It was a difficult group of players, a very experienced group, and I'd just stopped playing myself so they're not looking at me as a player, they're looking at me as a coach: “What have you got?” It was demanding, but enjoyable.

‘Ruud didn't last very long – at the start of the following season he just gave in his letter and left. That's me, I'm off. I said, “What about me, I've moved my family up to the North-East.” And he replied, “You'll need to stay then!”

‘Bobby Robson came in and I had another great year with Sir Bobby. I learned a lot, but I went at the end of the season. It took me three months to come back to Chelsea as a scout and I started the second chapter of my time there.’

After a scouting role and then taking on the youth team, Clarke was appointed to Jose Mourinho’s backroom staff and played a huge role in winning numerous major honours, including back-to-back Premier League titles.

It established him as one of English football’s brightest young coaches and he later went on to show that at West Ham United, alongside Gianfranco Zola, and then as part of Kenny Dalglish’s team at Liverpool.

Spells as manager of West Bromwich Albion and Reading were followed by a brief stint as Roberto Di Matteo’s assistant at Aston Villa, and then came his outstanding job at Kilmarnock to earn him a shot at turning around the fortunes of the Scottish national team.

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