I couldn’t claim in all honesty that I’m familiar with Darrell Clarke but, on paper, he reads like an up-and-coming coach. Ambitious, hungry and already successful in the jobs he’s held so far.
Coming to Leeds United would be a huge step up, make no mistake about that, and no-one should be arrogant about taking this club on, but when it comes to his record it’s pretty hard to argue with.
There’s a train of thought which says that Leeds need an expensive, big-name coach who’s been there, done it and can carry the strain of expectation at Elland Road, but there is definite potential in the lower leagues and Clarke seems to be one of the better prospects at that level.
This is not the equivalent of David Hockaday or somebody like that. No offence to David but when he came here he had a track record of holding coaching jobs as opposed to a track record of guiding clubs to success. Clarke in two years has taken Bristol Rovers out of the Conference (or what used to be called the Conference) and out of League Two. By all means take issue with his inexperience but those are not insignificant achievements. Bear in mind that this came on the back of other promotions with Salisbury City in non-league.
At this stage I’m not clear if he’s going to be Massimo Cellino’s man, but I’m not as resistant to this type of appointment as other people might be. Okay, Clarke’s only 38 and Leeds United is a very different world to Bristol Rovers, but you can draw a number of conclusions from what he’s done in his career so far.
To start with, he obviously knows how to manage players properly. He must also have an eye for a good signing in the transfer market. And it’s fairly obvious that he’s someone who holds a good amount of confidence in his own ability.
That’s absolutely vital for anyone coming to Leeds. They have to be able to cope with the club and owner, both of whom are extremely demanding. But I find the option of a young, hungry coach more appealing than an obvious move for an older manager who’s been round the mill many times, held countless jobs already and no longer brings the freshness or the energy you often get with emerging managers.
Some of the best in our game, like Don Revie or Alex Ferguson, started out as young prospects who were keen, imaginative and highly ambitious. I’m not about to start comparing any of the coaches in Leagues One or Two to them, but there is some potential waiting to be tapped into.
In the current era, Gary Rowett might be a better example. He was doing very good things at Burton Albion so Birmingham City picked him up. It has to be said that his first season at St Andrews was pretty impressive. He’s looking like a good choice. On the flip side, Newcastle United have invested in Rafa Benitez and I can see why some in Leeds would be envious of that.
He’s a name and he’s got an impressive career behind him but, in truth, I think his days at the top are over. I don’t think he’s a manager who Europe’s biggest clubs are going to look at anymore. It’s quite surprising to see him in the Championship but Newcastle will be favourites for the title this season. It might well be that no-one made him a better offer.
And let’s not lose sight of a bigger issue here. Of course we need a decision about the head coach – and I’ll say once again that in my view Steve Evans has done a good job in his time in charge – we need players too. Managers build their reputations with promotions and trophies, but they don’t win either of them without good players.
I doubt whether any manager out there could turn the squad at Leeds as it stands into play-off contenders. In my view there’s the basis of a promotion bid within it, but that will only be realised if four or five quality players are added before the season starts.
The past few years were given perspective for me when I met Robert Snodgrass in town on Wednesday. It made me think about what we had when he was here and what we have now. It made me think about how little progress we’ve made.
The attacking line of Snodgrass, Max Gradel, Luciano Becchio, Jermaine Beckford, Jonny Howson and even someone like Bradley Johnson – to be perfectly honest, that group would not do you a bad turn in the Premier League. Snoddy was excellent when Leeds played at Hull last month. It was quite a glaring example of the additional quality we need.
I’m not for one minute saying the identity of the head coach doesn’t matter. It’s very important and it’s vital that the owner gets this right, to avoid another season which is over before it starts. But while people are talking about who the next man’s going to be, Steve Evans or someone else, I’m thinking more about our recruitment on the playing side. If we don’t score more goals then we’ll be no closer to the top six next season. If we don’t make proper changes to the defence, we’ll throw away as many points as it did this season.
Coaching can change that to a certain extent and someone like Clarke evidently knows how to coach.
At the level he’s worked at, his record is exemplary so I’m sure he’d back himself to make an impact. But quality on the pitch is what really wins games and that’s where my mind is focused. Once the situation with the head coach is resolved, that’s when I believe the really crucial work starts.