Steve Clarke’s speech to the Kilmarnock fans after the Ayrshire club’s last game of the season hinted at an imminent exit and indeed, the appointment of the 55-year-old as the next Scotland manager was confirmed on Monday.
Not since Walter Smith back in 2004 has the hiring of a Scotland boss been met with such universal optimism.
This sort of hope feels somewhat alien to anyone involved with the sport north of the border. But what exactly makes Clarke such a strong appointment?
Here are a few reasons why the future is bright.
Clarke is a maximiser of talent
When Clarke arrived at Rugby Park in October 2017, he found a squad preparing for a relegation scrap. Kilmarnock were in a bad way with one of the worst teams, at least on paper, in the Scottish Premiership.
Yet somehow Clarke managed to lift Killie up into the top half of the table in his first season and into third place in his second.
Clarke is a maximiser of talent. At Kilmarnock, he turned Greg Taylor and Stephen O’Donnell into arguably the most consistent full back duo in Scotland, he established Alan Power and Gary Dicker a formidable midfield platform and developed Eamon Brophy into one of the league’s most consistent scorers.
Imagine what he might do with a far superior squad as Scotland manager.
Scottish FA have not hired a ‘Yes Man’
In light of Alex McLeish’s dismissal, the fear was that the Scottish FA would turn to another of their close associates. McLeish, hired in early 2018 after a botched approach for Northern Ireland’s Michael O’Neill, was the easy appointment and an uninspiring one at that. McLeish is a close friend of Scottish FA president Alan McRae and so he was never likely to be the man to lead the revolution at the top of the national game.
Clarke, however, is no ‘Yes Man.’ He might not be the out-of-the-box name many longed for as the next Scotland manager, but he will not put up with the incompetent, behind-the-times governance previous national team bosses have had to contend with.
Of course, with that comes the potential for friction, but Scotland needs someone of Clarke’s character to escape its rut.
A solid basis to build on
Too frequently Clarke is categorised as a defensive-minded coach. The truth is a little different.
Clarke is instead a coach who prioritises organisation above all else and as Scotland manager he will have the players required to impose the type of game that has served him so well over the course of his career.
For the first time in a generation, Scotland have a strong foundation. They have Kieran Tierney and Andy Robertson, two of the best young full-backs in Europe.
He also has David Bates, Scott McKenna and John Souttar as solid centre backs, as well as Scott McTominay and John McGinn as midfield controllers. Clarke will inherit a squad that should be to his liking.
Clarke’s style should be suited to international football
Adding to the previous point, Clarke’s style of football should be well-suited to the international game. National team managers don’t always have time to impose grand ideologies on their players and so the best organised tend to go the furthest.
Look at Northern Ireland’s success in recent years for a case study.
Clarke isn’t just adept at organising players in a team unit, but in educating them in when to be adventurous. Brophy and Greig Stewart both flourished under his stewardship at Kilmarnock with Kris Boyd also enjoying a late-career renaissance, finishing last season as the Scottish Premiership’s top scorer.
Don’t expect Scotland to become a free-flowing, free-scoring outfit with Clarke at the helm, but in international football goals aren’t always the most valuable of currencies.