Another summer, another new manager at St Andrews. Birmingham have appointed Lee Clark as their manager following the departure of Chris Hughton to Norwich and the Premier League, having lost the services of Alex McLeish to Aston Villa (not a move that ended well!) the summer before. This is perhaps a testament to the fine job Birmingham’s managers are doing in difficult circumstances, certainly Chris Hughton can be commended for his efforts last season on a shoestring budget.
It is thought Clark will face similar restrictions as the Blues are still under a transfer embargo after failing to publish their March financial statements in time. Money is tight following their relegation from the Premier League and the club still has several high earners on the books, including Nikola Zigic who is understood to still receive £50,000 a week following his high profile switch from Valencia two years ago. Since no one can match any such offer for a player of Zigic’s somewhat limited calibre, Birmingham are stuck with the top salaries for the time being.
They registered losses of around £10 million in the season they were relegated, despite having won the League Cup. However, the sale of key squad members such as Roger Johnson, Craig Gardner, Scott Dann and Cameron Jerome brought in figures of around £22 million. With owner Carson Yeung still under investigations for various activities, not to mention having some of his assets frozen, the financial concerns provide Clark with a difficult backdrop to come in and take the job.
However, previous achievements show that Clark is more than capable of making a good fist of it. He enjoyed a successful career at the highest level, crossing the Tyne-Weir divide from boyhood favourites Newcastle to local rivals Sunderland. A midfielder in his day, Clark also impressed during a six year spell at Fulham before finishing his career back with the Toon Army. Such was his eagerness to move straight into management, Clark was in charge of Huddersfield Town a mere two years after his retirement.
Just 35 at the time, Clark replaced Stan Ternant who got the boot with Huddersfield struggling in League One. He helped them to a ninth-placed finish in that first year, losing just two games at home during that period. The next season brought more rewards for Clark and the Terriers though, as his side reached the playoffs before losing to Millwall in the semi-final, a bitter blow to the club considering local rivals Leeds United were also promoted that year. On a personal level, Clark was rewarded for the promise he’d shown in the dugout that year, winning three Manager of the Month awards, the first man to do so in a season in that division since Roberto Martinez achieved it for Swansea in 2007/08.
In 2010/11, Town and Clark hoped to go one better and achieve promotion. Despite finishing third in the League, including a 25 game unbeaten run, the playoffs proved Town’s undoing again as Peterborough United beat them 3-0 in the final at Old Trafford. The 2011/12 saw Huddersfield continue to break records thanks to Jordan Rhodes’s sensational form, improving that unbeaten run to 43 games. Clark then clashed with Chairman Dean Hoyle, who believed his manager’s attitude had become too arrogant, intent on protecting the unbeaten run with draws rather than concentrating on winning the League. A 1-0 defeat to Sheffield United in February saw his reign brought to an end and as Clark watched on, the Terriers achieved promotion under new boss Simon Grayson, ironically through the playoffs.
Clark will undoubtedly be out to right a few wrongs next year. Everyone in football saw his dismissal from Huddersfield as harsh, especially with the side lying third in the league at the time. Clark is still rated in the game as one the brightest prospect in managerial terms and has several talented prospects in terms of players to work with at Birmingham too, including Nathan Redmond and England’s third choice keeper at the Euros, Jack Butland. The club have promised these assets will not be sold and they form part of an exciting squad that is still capable of winning promotion.
Jordan Mutch may have moved on to Cardiff, but Chris Burke still remains, while Marlon King and Adam Rooney are more than handy in front of goal. Restrictions in the market make Clark’s job that bit harder, but the Blues have a decent setup and can expect to flourish under his leadership. Both sides of Birmingham are enjoying their new talented managers following the horrors of McLeish, but it will be interesting to see who lasts longer, Lambert at Villa, or Clark at Birmingham.