Lee Clarke got the sack. Lee Clarke lost his job in a season where his team broke the record for the number of consecutive football league games unbeaten. So why did Lee Clarke lose his job, is this madness or is this Sparta?
On the face of it, this is Sparta. By which I mean it’s really harsh but perhaps for the best in the long run. What more did Clarke need to do in order to keep his job? Simple, get promoted. On the surface Clark’s record might look fantastic, but he didn’t get Huddersfield promoted when Norwich won the league. He didn’t get them promoted last season (Huddersfield lost in the play-off final despite their ‘unbeaten’ run) and last night his team lost to automatic promotion rivals Sheffield United at home. They’ve spent money (for League One) and have a lot of ambition and Clarke has failed to deliver Championship football.
If you’ve got an ambitious board and chairman, your target is usually promotion. If you fail to achieve that target two seasons in a row then you’re in trouble. So the timing of Clarke’s dismissal after a home defeat to Sheffield United suggests the board want someone to try and lead the team to promotion this season and aren’t prepared to suffer a 3rd season in a row of play-off failure.
League One isn’t easy but Peterborough and Brighton got out of it last season and look like staying up, Brighton could conceivably reach the play-offs in the Championship. I wouldn’t say either of them is a bigger club than Huddersfield. Clarke’s got a great record in games, his team are hard to beat but he didn’t get them up and ultimately he has paid the price.
If you watch Huddersfield play they’re not an attractive team in terms of their style, so Clarke needed to deliver results to keep the crowd interested in a town full of people who love rugby league. Clarke’s sacking is ruthless but if they bring in a manager who gets them up automatically this season and keeps them in the Championship nobody will miss him. The anger at the injustice of the sacking of Chris Hughton has long since died down, especially as much maligned successor Alan Pardew has this season exceeded even the Geordie nation’s expectations.
When you look at what Paul Lambert has done at Norwich and what Brendan Rogers has carried on at Swansea it sets the standard for football league managers pretty high, it’s clear from Clarke’s sacking that Huddersfield don’t want to settle for League One football for another year. Southampton are hot on the heels of Norwich in chasing back to back promotions, if you are a football league chairman you will look at the work done by Nigel Adkins and Paul Lambert and think “I want that for my club, I want a manager that can deliver that” obviously this isn’t easy, but that’s never going to stop chairman asking for it, there are so many “sleeping giants” in English football waiting for the right manager to restore the glory days of the club. Norwich are effectively living the dream revival.
Mick McCarthy lost his job at Wolves, their target was mid-table safety and the chairman said he didn’t want another final day survival showdown. He feels the team weren’t putting in a return based on the money invested, so we’re reminded yet again that football is a business and in the Premier League, it’s big business. The impact Martin O’Neill has made at Sunderland has been incredible. It’s not like there are lots of Martin O’Neill’s floating around out of work, but when you see the impact a new manager can have in restoring a team’s fortunes it’s only going to encourage chairman to pull the trigger.
I don’t think Lee Clarke will have much trouble finding another job, as his record on paper is impressive, but his relationship with the board at Huddersfield was rumoured to have been deteriorating as their frustration grew with a perceived lack of progress and as Fabio Capello showed recently, when you have a show down with the board there is only ever one winner.
It’s not an easy job being a football manager, with the stress, the pressure and the expectation. All the while having to juggle, handle and massage the self-esteem of a group of young arrogant over paid egomaniacs. But when people like Paul Lambert are around making it look so easy, it only makes the job that much harder for everyone else.