STEVE Clarke’s extraordinary accomplishments with Kilmarnock since arriving at Rugby Park have been the talk of Scottish football for the best part of two seasons now.

Exactly how Clarke, who was yesterday confirmed as the new Scotland head coach, has taken the Ayrshire club away from the Ladbrokes Premiership relegation zone and into Europe in the last 19 months using, by and large, the same squad of players he inherited, though, is less well known.

And quite how he will now go about lifting the national team following their catastrophic start to their Euro 2020 qualifying campaign and secure an automatic place in the finals next summer is unclear.

But Billy Thomson, the former St Mirren, Dundee United, Motherwell, Rangers and Scotland player who has been the goalkeeping coach at Kilmarnock throughout Clarke’s tenure, yesterday gave a revealing first-hand account of how his compatriot has produced such a turnaround in fortunes.


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And Thomson also offered an informed opinion about how he will go about revitalising the country, whose chances of finishing in the top two in Group I are slim following a dire defeat to Kazakhstan away back in March, in the months ahead.

He anticipates that Clarke will be able to quickly identify the capabilities of the players he has available him, formulate a system that suits his personnel’s strengths, show a forensic attention to detail when analysing opponents, be cool under pressure, command his charges’ complete respect and get them to execute his game plan.

The seven-times capped player warned Scott Bain, Andy Robertson, Ryan Fraser and their team mates that their new gaffer will be hugely demanding and won’t select anyone who fails to meet his high standards.

However, he stressed that the former Chelsea, West Ham, Liverpool and Aston Villa assistant and West Brom and Reading manager understands the mindset of the modern day footballer - and revealed he had never once seen him lose his temper in the time he had been a member of his backroom staff.

“Stevie’s manner out on the training field gets players to buy into his way of thinking and deliver exactly what he wants from them in a game,” he said. “He has done that since day one at Kilmarnock.

“He got players who weren’t featuring in the side, coached them, showed them exactly what he wanted them to do and all of a sudden everything started to click for them. The likes of Alan Power, Kirk Broadfoot and Stuart Findlay bought into it. He gave them confidence. That was a big, big thing.


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“The players who were there were all good footballers in their positions. All it needed was Stevie to come in and give them that confidence, tell them they’re good players, tell them what they can achieve. They became a team.

“His knowledge of the game is absolutely exceptional. How he sees a player is incredible. When he brought in (Youssouf) Mulumbu he knew what the boy could do for him. Same with (Aaaron Tshibola)) Tish. He knew what Alan (Power) could bring. The whole team gelled and became a really good unit because of his understanding of the game.

“The way Stevie goes about things is very professional and methodical. We look at videos of the opposition throughout the week and he studies how they play. He picks players in certain positions and in certain formations to try and combat them. Once he has done that, then his players have licence to go and play and express themselves.

“He is old school in that his players all have to work hard. They have to run. If he wants you to press at certain times then you go and you press. But you press in threes and fours. You have really got to work. If you don’t work then he just won’t pick you. It’s as simple as that.”


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But Thomson added: “I don’t think I have ever heard or seen him get really angry or remonstrate. He comes in at half-time, will sit in the room adjacent to the dressing room, write down his notes and then come in to speak to the boys. He is always very, very calm. That is where his man management comes in.

“There have been occasions when we haven’t been good. A lot of managers will come in and bawl and shout and rant and rave. He doesn’t do that.

“He has been able to get across to the players that it is important not to panic. We have done that on a number of occasions. We have been behind and we have come back. The players started to believe in him as a result.

“It has been uncanny at times. He will come in at half-time and say: ‘We’ll get an equaliser and we’ll go on to win the game’. It is easy to say that, but it has actually happened on lots of occasions. It happened because he tinkered with the team. At the end of the game, we would end up with a result.

“Stevie commands respect because of the level he has played and managed at in the past. The minute he walked into the dressing room on day one you sensed the players had a respect for them.”


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Clarke can come across as a reserved individual in his interviews with the media. But Thomson explained the public figure is quite different from the private individual. He expects the Scotland players to enjoy being part of the set-up under their new head coach.

“I must say, Alex Dyer, his assistant, has been fantastic as well,” he said. “There is a great rapport in our office. Alex was a great foil for Stevie. He is an excellent coach. The two of them work great together.

“Stevie told us on his first day that big Alex was coming up to be his assistant. He said: ‘I’m the dour one and he’s the one who’s full of joy’. But he’s got a great sense of humour. He is pretty witty and comes out with great one liners.”

There hasn’t been much for the Tartan Army to smile about of late, but Billy Thomson expects that to change in future with Stevie Clarke now in charge of the Scotland side.