Former Kilmarnock winger Pat Nevin insists Steve Clarke’s amazing Rugby Park transformation is no surprise considering his former A-list colleagues.
Killie fans are happier than they’ve been for years after winning nine and drawing two of their last 12 games under their impressive gaffer.
That run has taken them into the top six and midfielder Youssouf Mulumbu has admitted the players are already dreaming of overtaking fourth-placed Hibs to claim a Europa League slot.
Killie are 12 points behind Neil Lennon’s men but with winnable games in hand at home to St Johnstone and away to Hamilton plus a home TV match against the Hibees on Saturday the potential is there to reduce that gap.
However, according to Nevin – a former team-mate of Clarke’s with Chelsea and Scotland – that’s nothing compared to what the Rugby Park faithful can expect next season.
The pundit, who had a spell at Killie towards the end of his career, said: “If Kilmarnock are going to reach the top four and qualify for Europe then these are the games that they need to win.
“Steve has said he’s only interested in moving further away from the bottom but you can think two things at once and he’ll also be wondering just how far they can go. Whatever happens next season should be even better for Kilmarnock and their supporters.
“You can see the players he has inherited have been impressed by him and bought into what he’s doing"
“Managers usually have a go-to guy, someone they can trust and who they take
everywhere with them in the way Brendan Rodgers has Chris Davies and Jurgen Klopp has Zeljko Buvac.
“Steve isn’t like that though. He started at Newcastle with Ruud Gullit, who he played alongside at Stamford Bridge, but stayed on after Gullit left to be No.2 to Sir Bobby Robson who he had never worked with before.
“He eventually went back to Chelsea to head up their youth development programme and then, when Jose Mourinho arrived, he made a few calls and chose to appoint Steve as his No.2, even though they had never met until then.
“When Jose left he went to West Ham with Gianfranco Zola, a former team-mate at Stamford Bridge, but two years later when Kenny Dalglish became Liverpool’s manager for a second time he asked Steve to join him at Anfield.
“Then he joined another old Chelsea colleague, Roberto di Matteo, at Aston Villa. These guys all chose Steve for a reason.”
Nevin was astonished the SFA refused to consider Clarke as a candidate for the job with the national team after Michael O’Neill and Walter Smith rejected it.
But he argues Scotland’s loss is Killie’s gain.
Nevin said: “When you look at the list of folk Stevie has worked with, you have to ask, ‘Who has a better background? Is there anyone else in the world who has worked at so many top clubs and with so many great managers?’
“The Killie fans will have breathed a huge sigh of relief when Alex McLeish was announced as the new man last week.
“It’s surprising the SFA didn’t even speak to him though, especially when you consider who he has worked under.”
In his two previous spells as the top man Clarke led West Brom to their highest finish in the Premier League and took Reading to the FA Cup semi-finals for the first time in 88 years.
That’s why Nevin hasn’t been surprised at the way Clarke has reinvigorated Kilmarnock who were bottom of the table when he replaced Lee McCulloch last October.
He said: “Going back to Steve’s time with the Chelsea youth set-up, it was obvious then he knew his stuff.
“He has been at the sharp end of the coaching side for 20 years now and it would be astonishing if he hadn’t learned a lot.
“Steve stayed on at Chelsea after Mourinho left the first time and he was the one doing the heavy lifting when Avram Grant was brought in to replace him. He was the brains, doing the tactical work.”