CRAIG Burley has questioned whether Steve Clarke will be able to sustain the extraordinary success he has enjoyed at Kilmarnock on such a limited budget - and predicted his old Chelsea team mate may be tempted to move on if a larger club moves for him this summer.

Burley played alongside Clarke at Stamford Bridge for six years during the 1990s and has been delighted to see his fellow Scot resurrect his managerial career in such spectacular fashion since moving to Rugby Park back in October.

The former Newcastle United, Chelsea, West Ham and Liverpool assistant has completely transformed the fortunes of the Ayrshire outfit and taken them from bottom of the Ladbrokes Premiership table to fifth place.

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Kilmarnock are unbeaten in five games against the two main Glasgow clubs since he has returned to this country – they have beaten Celtic at home and beaten Rangers both home and away during that time.

The 54-year-old has been linked with a move to Ibrox - where Graeme Murty has been given until the end of the 2017/18 campaign to prove he deserves to be made Rangers manager on a long-term basis - during the summer as a result of his work in the past five months.

Burley, now working as a pundit for ESPN in the United States, is at a loss to explain how Clarke, who has only brought in Leo Fasan and Youssouf Mulumbu on free transfers as well as Jasko Keranovic, Aaron Simpson and Aaron Tshibola on loan, has achieved such a turnaround with such meagre funds.

“I don’t know how he’s done it,” he said. “I remember when my old Celtic team mate Tommy Johnson went to talk to Jim Jefferies about joining Kilmarnock. He sat in the manager’s office at Rugby Park and big Jim put the offer in front of him.

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“In that north-east accent of his, Tommy said: ‘Why aye Jim! Our lass’s shopping for the week is more than that!’ I don’t think Kilmarnock’s budget will have changed much over the years. I don’t know how Stevie’s done it. But he’s obviously coaching and organising them well.

“I am really pleased for Stevie. He did me an enormous favour at Chelsea because he was the one guy who was actually more miserable than me. You can’t underestimate that! When you have one miserable Scotsman it’s good to have another Scotsman who is even more miserable.

“Seriously, though, I loved playing with Stevie. He was a great help to me when I came into the team. He was a very underrated full-back. He fell out with Broonie (Craig Brown) and (Andy) Roxburgh. If he hadn’t he would have played more for Scotland.

“He didn’t care for the Largs mafia. Whenever I used to head up to Scotland to join up with the national team he would give me a message to pass on to the bosses that I couldn’t repeat.

“Stevie is straight to the point with people. If I had a terrible game with Chelsea he would tell me. He said to me once: ‘Get yourself home, close all the curtains in the house, have a couple of paracetamol, go to your bed and forget about it’. I said: ‘Was I that bad?’ He said: ‘Aye’. As I say, I am really pleased for him.”

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Clarke, who spent a year out of the game altogether before joining Kilmarnock, has stated repeatedly that he is fully committed to the Rugby Park club and has no plans to leave.

But Burley, who played for Celtic for two and a half seasons, believes his old team mate will know there is a limit to what he can achieve and is certain to be targeted by clubs north and south of the border who have been impressed by how he has fared in Ayrshire this season.

“If he keeps going the way he’s going he’s not going to be there long,” he said. “What he has done, to take them from the bottom of the league to where they are, with a budget that I presume isn’t great is fantastic and will have been noticed.

“I thought he did a pretty good job at West Brom. He had a bit of a rough time for a few games and they canned him. But they finished eighth the season before.

“I spoke to him when he went to Reading. He was looking for some players and he touched base with me to see what was over here. But this is a difficult market. That went a bit south for him as well.

“I know he’s from Salcoats, but, to be honest, I never saw him moving back up to Scotland. I think Clarkey saw Kilmarnock as a way back in. I suppose the difficulty getting jobs in England means you can never turn down an opportunity.

“He won’t say this. He has talked Scottish football up. For every manager or coach out of a job a smaller club with a limited budget is a way back in.

“Everybody wants to climb the tree. People will have absolutely noted what he has done. The trick for people in his position is to understand how long he can sustain it and appreciate it can turn south.

“Kilmarnock fans probably won’t want to hear it, but it is difficult to sustain the kind of things he is doing now on a budget. From his perspective there is a shelf life. I am amazed how well it has gone. It is pretty staggering how well it has gone.”

Burley confessed that he had not earmarked Clarke, the former St Mirren defender who won the FA Cup, League Cup and European Cup Winners’ Cup during his 11 years as a player at Chelsea, as a future manager, but recalled how he quickly became immersed in coaching when he moved into the dugout.

“It is always difficult to tell which characters in the dressing room who will go into management and make a success of it,” he said.

“Mark Hughes was at Chelsea with Stevie and I. He was an animal on the pitch. When he crossed that white line he would fight with his grandmother. But he wouldn’t say a word in the dressing room. You couldn’t get a peep out of Sparky. But he went into it, Gianfranco Zola went into it, even Dennis Wise, who would fight with the world, went into it.

“Stevie got hooked on it. I remember when he was No.2 to Jose Mourinho at Chelsea and I was broadcasting in England our paths crossed. He was big into it. He was very serious about it and learned a lot at that time. He is certainly putting his experience to good use now.”