JOE McLAUGHLIN reckons former Chelsea team-mate Steve Clarke deserves to be crowned manager of the year – and then take the reins at Celtic in the summer.

Clarke has led Kilmarnock to third in the table heading into the post-split fixtures and on the brink of delivering European football to Rugby Park for the first time in 18 years.

McLaughlin, who was Clarke’s captain at Stamford Bridge during the 1980s, thinks securing that feat would top anything any other manager has achieved in Scotland this season.

He said: “Steve has done an amazing job at Kilmarnock and on a fraction of the budget of a lot of other clubs in the league. I think he’s made a great case to be considered manager of the year, especially if he can take them into Europe.

“I’d be very surprised if he wasn’t chosen. That award should be for guys who are outperforming what should be realistically expected of them, not for managers with the most money and the best players. It’s too easy to pick those guys.

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“Steve’s taken Killie to the point where if they beat Celtic or Rangers it doesn’t really count as a shock any more. That’s the level he’s taken them to. And there will be individual players at those two clubs on more than Clarkey’s whole playing budget.

“Steve was a quiet guy in the Chelsea dressing room but he always spoke up when he had something to say. In his coaching career he’s worked under so many great people like Kenny Dalglish, Gianfranco Zola, Ruud Gullit, Glenn Hoddle and Jose Mourinho. When you’re in that position you can’t help but learn from them.

“He’s taken all that into his management career but he’s also got his own style. The players know what’s expected of them and they obviously respect him, too.

“They’re well organised as a team and each player knows their role. It’s not rocket science but not every manager does it as well as Steve. And when you’ve got a good changing room that brings success.”

Clarke has made noises about moving on from Kilmarnock this summer and McLaughlin, who played for eight clubs in Scotland and England during a 23-year career and is now assistant manager at Albion Rovers, thinks Celtic would be mad not to make a move for him.

“Steve should be a stick-on for that job,” he added. “Obviously Neil Lennon is in pole position but if Celtic are looking elsewhere then

I think Steve would be the best candidate to go in there. He’s proved himself at Kilmarnock and now deserves the chance to do it with a bigger club and with a bigger budget.”