When Roberto Di Matteo was originally announced by Aston Villa as their new manager, a lot of Villa supporters only felt at ease with the decision once Steve Clarke was announced as his number two (with Kevin Bond also on the coaching staff).
Part of the thinking was no doubt that if things went wrong for Di Matteo, then Villa would have a more capable caretaker manager than in previous transitional periods – Eric Black, anybody?
Clarke was formerly Jose Mourinho’s right-hand man in the Special One’s successful trophy-winning first stint with the club and also has experience in the role at Newcastle, West Ham and Liverpool. Then, of course he was the manager of West Brom and Reading (he led them to their first FA Cup semi-final in 88 years).
There’s two trains of thought on Steve Clarke, one is he struggled to make his mark as the main man, but due to his top level experience, it could also be argued that he was perhaps sacked rashly, especially at West Brom.
Now the question is will he be leaving with Di Matteo, or do Villa regard him as a separate entity? To his credit, he was largely responsible for bringing in Aaron Tshibola, one of the brighter signings (if he shakes off his injury troubles), so far.
In some respects, if Tony Xia, Keith Wyness and Steve Round decide to keep Clarke on at Villa, the international break may have come at a bad time for Villa’s assistant boss to have any real chance of bagging the top job.
If there wasn’t a break, Clarke potentially would have been put in charge as a caretaker manager, while the search began in earnest. This could have given him a chance to impress in the event of the search not reaching a satisfactory conclusion. If Clarke began to win games and got three points in each of the games against Wolves and Birmingham, then the Villa board maybe tempted to give him longer, especially if the fans were won over by good results.
After all, even now, most fans would take Clarke over the likes of Steve McClaren and some of the other jobless manager usual suspects.
The international break though does provide the Villa board with a two-week period where they could potentially make things happen. The odds are certainly against somebody in an existing job like the mooted David Wagner, the current boss of Huddersfield.
Wagner’s attitude and managerial organisation certainly is what the doctor ordered for Villa, but it would need a compensation package for Huddersfield and they are very unlikely to want to upset the apple cart of a potential historic promotion push.
If the current league leaders Huddersfield gained promotion, the financial reward would make Wagner’s compensation payment seem like loose change down the back of the sofa. Also, Wagner has been in place since November and has a good thing going on with Huddersfield, taking them into the Premier League would be a bigger achievement than doing anything with Villa. There’s no doubt he’d want to see the fruits of his labour so far, pan out.
Considering the time period in question, a currently out of work manager is more likely for Villa, so that puts Steve Bruce in the running. Yes, the same Steve Bruce that Villa fans have tormented for years. But is he a sexy enough name for Tony Xia?
What happens to Steve Clarke is an interesting little sub-plot. If the search for a new Villa boss begins to stall and goes beyond the international break, he may have an increasingly bigger role to play at the club, if he sticks around.
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