Steve Clarke 'may not want Scotland job, but SFA should ask the question'
BBC Scotland's senior football reporter, Chris McLaughlin, analyses a talking point from the weekend's action, asking what's behind the words.
|"It's easy to do it on the training pitch. The hardest thing is to take that level of quality into a big game like that, against the best side in the country by a distance."|
|Manager Steve Clarke after his Kilmarnock side became only the second team to inflict a domestic defeat on Brendan Rodgers' Celtic.|
As Celtic's defeated players trudged around the Rugby Park pitch offering post-match applause to the fans who'd packed out the away stands, the Kilmarnock manager was waiting for them up the tunnel.
Away from the TV cameras, as his own team celebrated a fantastic win over the champions in their dressing-room, he stood patiently with all the emotion of a middle-aged man waiting for a bus on a Monday morning.
When the Celtic players and coaching staff eventually made their way, single file, up the narrowest tunnel in football, he held out his hand to every one of them before heading to join his own. No fuss, no triumphalism, just respect.
As I waited with microphone in hand for him to re-emerge from the dressing-room, I toyed with the idea of asking him about the Scotland job.
I could hear the Sportsound team talking about it and I knew the nature of the result would, once again, force his name forward.
My gut told me it wasn't the time. He had answered the question a few weeks earlier and, more importantly, Kilmarnock deserved the glory.
A penny though for the thoughts of those twitching nervously around the SFA boardroom table. Could they soon be asking him questions?
Since Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill said thanks but no thanks, there's been something of a credible candidate vacuum.
Walter Smith is the new favourite with the bookmakers. Alex McLeish, Gary Caldwell and Scot Gemmill are all in the running too.
The word from Hampden is that, at this stage, they're ruling nobody in and nobody out. An indication perhaps that the very public custard pie delivered by O'Neill has forced a strategy rethink.
So what should the sub-committee sent forth by the other committee be committing themselves to?
Experience, tactical awareness and the ability to get the very best from a group of players who won't be competing for a Ballon d'Or anytime soon. That is the very unscientific list I've put together after a chat with a few ex-professionals and a couple of guys down the pub.
There's an obvious, common-sense feel to it though. Some on that bookmakers list can tick those boxes and you would expect they would be considered.
Should we also assume that current form ticks a box of its own? If so, Clarke might well be on a list.
The 54-year-old has 20 years of coaching experience and has worked with some giants of the game. Newcastle United, Chelsea and Liverpool and a few others in between have watched the Scot come and go from their training centres.
In Scotland, his name would be thrown in when club jobs of note came up, but it happened with such regularity that it was rarely taken seriously. That was the backdrop to his arrival in Ayrshire.
Nobody expected it and nobody quite knew what to make of it. They do now.
The well-deserved victory over the champions was win number five in a row at home. Win number three of that run came against Rangers.
In a matter of months, Clarke has dragged the club from the foot of the table to the top six. There's an expectation in the dressing-room and in the stands. A club once ridiculed now means business.
The change-in-manager bounce explanation is no longer relevant - there's clearly something else at play. Put simply, Clarke is currently proving himself a very good manager.
The respect shown by him to players whose hands are shaken at the end of each match is one earned through years watching men do battle on the training ground and on a Saturday.
It works both ways. Clarke is a manager with a presence. An intangible quality not easily explained but one essential at international level. He has the experience, the form and the respect.
He may not even want it, but those tasked with finding a replacement for Gordon Strachan should do what I didn't and at least ask the question.