Ahead of England’s Euro 2020 clash with Scotland, we’ve gone into the archive to unearth our interview with Steve Clarke. Since chatting to us in 2011, Clarke has gone on to manage three clubs and is the first manager to lead Scotland men’s senior side to a major tournament since 1998.
Ten years ago, the then Liverpool assistant manager spoke to us about coaching elite players, his own preparation for management and working with Jose Mourinho.
BIGGEST INFLUENCE As a player you take a little bit from all your coaches: the good bits and the bad bits. I had a little spell working with Don Howe. I think most people who know Don know how enthusiastic and infectious he is and his attention to detail is good.
When Glenn Hoddle first came into Chelsea, he’d been out of the country working in France, and he came back in with good ideas. Both on your general lifestyle, your wellbeing and fitness work. When he came in, I was getting older, towards my thirties, and you start to think about how you can prolong your career. Glenn gave some good insight into that.
His technical content was, as you would expect, excellent. He introduced some interesting ideas in training; including the three centre-backs with wing-backs, which he’d done at his previous club, Swindon, and had been successful. It was a great system for passing the ball.
As a coach, I’ve got to go for the obvious one: Jose [Mourinho]. When I got the chance to go and work with Jose, all he did was really reinforce the ideas I already had. But he did it in a way I hadn’t seen before. Everybody speaks about his attention to detail, and it’s true. His attention to detail is on another level to anything I'd ever seen before. I’m sure there are other coaches in the world who have it, but it’s the first time I’d ever seen it. Everything in the session was geared around being organised: one drill moved into the next, with minimum time in between and I think the players appreciate that.
His variety on exercise was great. He tried never to repeat [a session]. Obviously, you have to repeat themes, and when you do possession every day you’re repeating yourself. But he did it with a different slant, a different emphasis. He tried to vary the training as much as he could.
I think it’s well documented that Mourinho’s philosophy is that football training should be ‘global’. Your technical, physical and tactical work should all be incorporated into your training sessions and not separated out. You get some coaches who like to work on the technical and the tactical [elements] separately and with the physical element separated as well. Mourinho’s philosophy was to bring all that together; normally always with the ball. I took a lot of ideas from his drills and his practices.
He’s also got an unbelievable desire to win – and he’s very good at transmitting that to the group of players that he’s working with at any particular time. He’s proved it at Porto, Chelsea, Inter Milan and Madrid. He’s shown he’s a great communicator, he can transmit that desire to win and that’s why he’s been as successful as he’s been.
HOW PLAYERS REACT TO MOURINHO’S APPROACH
One: they appreciate it. Two: they don’t switch off between the exercises. Three: you’re asking them to concentrate all the time and that’s what football is. It’s a period of play then it breaks, and then it’s another period of play and then it breaks. If you can get them to concentrate and focus then that’s the way to go forward.
WORKING WITH OTHER COACHES
Obviously, they’ve all got their own individual characters and they’re all different people. But basically, you’ve got to find some common ground.
When I worked with Ruud Gullit, and he was the first one I worked with, we’d both just stopped playing. So, in terms of coaching and managing, we were probably quite inexperienced. For me, it was just a learning curve. Ruud’s ideas were Dutch-based – pass and move – it’s the Dutch philosophy. It was a great introduction to coaching. I did it away from the Chelsea environment which I was comfortable in. To get out and do something different at a different club was important for me going forward as a coach. I could have stayed at Chelsea, but I felt having played with a lot of the players I was going to have to coach, I didn’t think it was the right thing to do.
I went from working with Jose to Avram Grant, who took over at a difficult time. Whoever was going to follow Jose was always going to find it difficult. Working under Avram I had a lot more to do than working under Jose, as Avram was more of a manager than a coach, so my input and involvement was multiplied. So that was good for me as a coach, to get that amount of time with such a quality group of players.
Luis Felipe Scolari came in with his own people and ideas, and I just didn’t feel I was getting asked or allowed to do enough coaching or work with the group. I felt that if I'd stayed there as a coach, I would have stagnated. It would have been easy for me to sit there and pick up my money and say this is an easy life, but that’s not what I wanted. So, when I got the opportunity to go to West Ham with Gianfranco Zola, I thought it was another challenge to take myself out of the comfort zone.
I didn’t know Kenny Dalglish before and it’s the first time we’ve worked together, so we’ve got to learn how to work together. It’s going to be a period of change for Liverpool. Hopefully, we can put in good foundations that can take the club back to a level where everybody expects them to be. Whether it takes a short period, or a long period, it’s still to be determined. In football, you can never work that out.
KEY SKILLS OF AN ASSISTANT MANAGER
I’ve got a lot of experience working with different characters and obviously I'm quite good at adapting. I must have a personality that must be good at adapting. If you’re working with different people, they’ve all got different ideas. I know what I want from training sessions, and what I want out from the group. But obviously, if the manager wants something slightly different from that, then you’ve got to be flexible enough to incorporate both. You’ve got to be flexible and adjust your ideas to suit both personalities.
If I'm honest, when I left West Ham, it was with the intention of becoming a manager. I’d waited seven months and no opportunity had presented itself. I'd had a couple of half-chances if you like, but nothing concrete. After seven months out of the game, I had an opportunity to come back in as a coach, and you want to be working. Everyone wants to work. It sounds great when you’ve had time to relax and enjoy yourself, but it doesn’t work like that: you have the hunger and the bug and the passion and you want to be involved.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s fantastic to be a coach and great to be an assistant manager. But I think to be the guy where the responsibility lies, I think that’s the final step for me and it’s an ambition for me. The attraction is that it’s something I haven’t tried, and I want to challenge myself as much as I can and see whether I can do it. But that’s for the future, I'm happy where I am at Liverpool.
WORKING WITH A NEW GROUP
The first thing I think you have to do is show them that you’re competent. Obviously, the first three or four sessions have to be good, well organised and function well. You make them easy for the players to understand and slowly, as you’re doing that, you’re implementing your own philosophies. The way I work is not to say ‘do this, do this, do this'. There has to be flexibility when you work with players at this level. You have to allow them to have their own slant and their own take on an exercise – and let them develop their own way of doing it. At a training session you put down the skeleton, a framework if you like, then the input and the quality of the players will determine whether it’s a good session or not.
ACCEPTING NEW VALUES
You always like to think that the players are buying into what your ideas are. I don’t know a player who doesn’t enjoy to pass the ball, take part in good possession practices and play in competitive game situations. From that point of view, I think every player is the same: they want to improve, they want to get better.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR IN A FIRST-TEAM COACH
Honesty, enthusiasm and hard work. I think if you have those three then you’ve got a start. From there, you’re looking for an aptitude for the job. But if you come with those first three, I think the rest of it follows on. If you’re honest and hardworking the players will respect you anyway.
WORKING WITH YOUNG PLAYERS
I loved being a youth team coach and I loved working with young players; that’s where I learnt how to coach and how to set up sessions. I had my own way of working with players: I wanted them to pass. I put an emphasis on keeping the ball. Every training session I did was possession based. It’s what I believe in.
This interview was first published in The Boot Room magazine in August 2011.
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