There are a lot of things I admire about Bristol Rovers manager Darrell Clarke. In fact, there is nothing that I don’t admire. When he was, as we football folk say, “dropped in it” when John Ward decided he did not want a relegation to the Conference on his CV, Clarke stepped up to the plate which was, sadly, empty. He did not complain at his playing budget which was slashed when the club went down. He did not blame anyone else, even though he was more than entitled to do so. Instead, he just got on with his job as a professional.
It is also hard to underestimate Clarke’s achievements still taking charge. For a decade and more, Rovers had been in steady decline, on and off the pitch. A long series of botched managerial appointments (and sackings), plus instability off the pitch, was reflected by the team’s position in the league, and non league, structure.
From being “that bloke who used to be at Salisbury”, Clarke has become a firm fans’ favourite. The main reason is, obviously, that he is successful in producing a winning team. No manager who is not successful on the pitch will last very long, regardless of his popularity. Rovers have a long history of managers who supporters liked at first, but loathed by the end.
I do not know if Rovers got lucky when they gave Clarke the job, but it really doesn’t matter. The success of any managerial appointment will depend on many things other than the manager’s ability. Take Steve McClaren at Newcastle (please). He was appointed after the players had been recruited for the new season and inherited a squad with no leaders and little heart. The inevitable is happening at St James Park with the sack merely a matter of when, not if. My guess is that he is one heavy defeat from the axe. It was different for Clarke, picking up the reins in non league, which he knew well and he did what all good managers do: he built a side appropriate for that division. He did not build a team for League 2: he put together a team appropriate for the level he was in. And it’s the same this year.
Being honest and open and calling it like it is has its drawbacks, I suppose. Only this week, the manager said Matt Taylor could be the next Jamie Vardy, a clear an indication as you can get that he expects the player to be sold in due course, maybe even soon. It was not a damaging comment since football clubs up and down the land will already have had their scouts watching Taylor and will have a good idea of his talent and potential. But it looks like Taylor could indeed be the real deal.
I have no inside knowledge, but Taylor’s rise to free scoring striker will not have been an accident. I have seen enough players who appear to have all the necessary qualities to succeed, only to fade away and end up in the Western League and lower. No, this is, at least in part, a result of Clarke’s excellent management.
Clarke’s career at the Rovers will end in one of two ways. The team will go into a tailspin and he will be sacked or he will be picked up by a club in a higher league. In the meantime, it is good that he is much admired and liked for what he is and what he has achieved.
And bringing the club back from the mess he inherited from John Ward represents an astonishing turnaround. Fans should enjoy the Clarke era for as long as it lasts.