THE APPOINTMENT of Steve Clarke by the Scottish FA has been one of - if not the most - popular decision Scottish football’s governing body have made in years. Players, pundits and fans alike have all been rightly enthused by news, and there’s a tangible sense of optimism surrounding the national team as a result.

There is a wide consensus that Clarke is the right man for the job and it isn’t difficult to see why. Here is a manager who took a Kilmarnock side seemingly destined for relegation, and in a little over a year and a half turned them into the third best side in the country. The Ayrshire club’s progress has been nothing short of remarkable, and now the hope is that Clarke can perform a similar miracle with the national side.

The 55-year-old has excelled at making his Kilmarnock team more than the sum of their parts, playing as a well-drilled collective, and it’s easy to see why the SFA were so keen to get the appointment over the line. Scotland certainly have the players capable of reaching the finals of a major tournament - players like James Forrest, Ryan Fraser and John McGinn have been turning out brilliant performances on a regular basis this season - and if we could just get them playing in a coherent system, then surely we could finally end our agonising wait to finally qualify for a tournament.


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However, while the country has been buoyed by the installation of Clarke, we would do well to temper our expectations a little. Yes, he’s undoubtedly the best man for the job. But there are still significant hurdles that accompany Clarke’s appointment and progress might not be quite as straightforward as we would like.

Arguably the most impressive aspect of Clarke’s time at Rugby Park is in the way in which he improved a squad that was lingering at the foot of the Premiership table. The list of players that Clarke has significantly developed is seemingly endless. Greg Taylor, Stuart Findlay, Stephen O’Donnell, Alan Power, Gary Dicker, Jordan Jones and Eamonn Brophy have all progressed at an astounding rate under Clarke’s guidance and, the thinking goes, the new Scotland boss will be able to do the same with the national team.

Unfortunately, this theory is flawed. The reason these players were able to improve so rapidly - and the reason that the players so clearly understood their roles in the starting XI - relied heavily on a resource that Clarke will no longer enjoy: time. Rather than working with his squad week in, week out to get his ideas across, Clarke will have to settle with seeing his players for a week or so at a time, months apart.

There is nothing to suggest that Clarke won’t instill a similar sense of understanding in the Scotland team eventually, but we must be patient. It is unreasonable to expect an instant, dramatic upturn in fortunes. The former Kilmarnock boss has proven that he is the best coach in the country when it comes to improving players, but he will still need to adjust to the unique demands of international football.


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There is another dilemma facing Clarke. And it’s one that plagued his predecessor, too. Accommodating Andy Robertson and Kieran Tierney won’t be Clarke’s immediate concern, given the fact that the Celtic full-back will miss the upcoming Euro 2020 qualifiers while he receives surgery, but it is an issue that Clarke will need to face eventually.

Alex McLeish found a solution, of sorts, to the problem. By deploying a back five, Robertson could play left wing-back while Tiernay could slot in on the left side of a three-man defence. But if Clarke’s Kilmarnock side are anything to go by, we are unlikely to see Scotland line up in a similar formation under the new manager.

Clarke consistently favoured a back four during his time at Rugby Park and had great success by doing so. It’s hard to see the 55-year-old deviating from his tried and tested system. Which begs the question: when he’s fit, where will Tierney fit into this team?


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Robertson, being the captain, is a shoe-in to start. Left midfield is a possibility for the Liverpool player but Clarke prefers pacy, direct dribblers on the wing; something that, for all his qualities, Robertson is not. Left-back seems like the most likely position for the 25-year-old. Tierney could perhaps feature on the opposite flank but given the fact that O’Donnell has excelled for Clarke in this position, and broken into the Scotland team here, it seems unlikely that Tierney will oust him from the team.

So that leaves the middle. While Tierney has generally performed admirably as part of a back three, there is an argument to be made that he lacks the physicality to be half of a central defensive partnership. And when we examine the profile of the centre-backs Clarke favoured at Kilmarnock - namely Stuart Findlay, Kirk Broadfoot, Alex Bruce and Scott Boyd - it is clearly apparent that the new Scotland boss prefers his central defenders to have a physical presence that Tierney simply doesn’t possess.

There are problems, then, that Clarke will need to address now that he’s landed the top job. We’re absolutely right to be excited by his appointment and it’s hard to recall a time when the Scotland manager was a better fit for the role. Clarke’s fantastic work at Kilmarnock is certainly an indicator of what could be achieved with Scotland, but it is vital to bare in mind that it is not a direct blueprint for success. There are hurdles to be overcome and it will not be plain sailing. But, for once, there is a genuine sense of optimism coming from the national team. There are problems, but there is no better person to solve them than Steve Clarke.