Darrell Clarke: Shape up, or go and stack supermarket shelves, says Walsall boss

Former Bristol Rovers boss Darrell Clarke has won five of his 18 games in charge at Walsall
Former Bristol Rovers boss Darrell Clarke has won five of his 18 games in charge at Walsall

Walsall manager Darrell Clarke has told his under-performing players that if they cannot handle criticism, they should not be professional footballers.

After a poor start following his appointment in May, four straight wins for Clarke looked to have things round.

But four subsequent defeats have now plunged Walsall back to 19th in the League Two table.

"My players are fully behind what we're trying to do here. But they've got to be better," Clarke told BBC WM.

"Everybody at the football club's got to be a lot better. If they can't handle that, they'll be on their way."

The 41-year-old continued: "I'm not going to cuddle them. They know that. I'm not a cuddling manager.

"If they want me to put an arm round them and say everything's going to be OK, I think we need to get another manager in."

'Soft players don't win you promotions'

The Saddlers were relegated from League One in May, ending a 12-year stay in English football's third tier, just three years after finishing third under Jon Whitney before losing to Barnsley in the play-offs.

And after five stable years under current Aston Villa boss Dean Smith, they have had five managers in less than four years since he left to join Brentford in December 2015; Sean O'Driscoll, Whitney, Dean Keates, Martin O'Connor and now Clarke.

And early results suggest that his 16 summer signings do not seem to have knitted together on the pitch so far.

Walsall face fellow strugglers Mansfield Town at home on Saturday and Clarke wants his players to toughen up.

"The players go on Twitter. They read newspaper articles. The criticism is already out there," he said.

"If they can't handle criticism from a manager when things aren't going well, if they're going to struggle in the modern world on confidence, if they can't handle the criticism, then they shouldn't be footballers.

"They should go and stack shelves at Asda. Soft players don't win you promotions."