Lee Clark has nothing but admiration for Steve Clarke.
But the Geordie believes Kilmarnock’s main men behind the scenes have been just as big a driving force in his old club’s stunning bid for the Europa League.
Clark reckons Rugby Park supremo Billy Bowie and director John Kiltie have elevated the club.
Their identification and snaring of Clarke last October has kickstarted a magnificent upturn in fortunes in Ayrshire which now has sights on a charge for the continent.
The ex-boss isn’t shocked at that foresight.
Having worked for the pair during his own days at Rugby Park, he’s well aware of the ambitions and funding which are provided to give the manager a base to produce his magic.
Clark explained: “It was a massive statement for the club when they got Steve to take the job. A really serious coup.
That would be down to Billy’s bigger influence in the club.
Listen, Billy and John are brilliant fellas. They could not have done any more for me. Top, top guys.
“You’d speak to them daily and they backed everything I tried to do on and off the field within reason.
There has been changes off the field since I left and Billy is getting a bigger and stronger say with what is happening and it’s showing on the pitch.
“The passion and commitment of them and others at the club is incredible and it’s fantastic to see the rewards.
“I see QTS have continued their backing. They are great backers and it’s so positive.
“Beating Celtic and Rangers regularly. It’s tremendous.
“I got to know Steve well during his time as assistant to Ruud Gullit at Newcastle and then I’ve come up against him in the Championship when he was manager of Reading.
He’s is a top class manager and gets the best of players. Look at Kris Boyd. He’s turned the clock back 10 years.
“It’s great credit to him, his staff and the lads.”
Killie’s superb form has now given them a real shot of making Europe.
Four points behind fourth-placed Hibs, the Ayrshire side have five games to overcome the deficit and Clark is savouring the resurgence after a the brush with relegation which he averted two seasons ago.
He said: “Being top-six was great, now fifth and why can’t they can go higher?
“No-one of the top teams is going to fancy playing them with their current form and record and it’s nice the fans and the club will be able to enjoy big games.
“We had a horrible situation where the club could have gone down to the Championship, which didn’t bear thinking about.
“Look at the time it took Hibs to get back up. Dundee United now. But we got it.
“We changed the group and, although the league was very tight, I left in sixth position.
Lee Clark enjoyed his time at Rugby Park
“It was strange that it was a calendar year. I joined on February 14 and left to join Bury on February 14 the next year.
“Bury were second bottom, but stayed in the league. We then tried to put together a squad for a promotion push, but it didn’t happen. It didn’t gel as quickly as we’d hoped.
“Even still, we were just two points from 16th when we left. Now they are 10 points adrift at the bottom of the table and were relegated at the weekend.
“The first part at Bury was similar to Kilmarnock. Going into the club in a February and keeping them in their league.
Clark might now be out of work after that disappointment, but he’s not out of the game.
A regular at grounds around the country, his current MO is to watch games, evaluate players, stay on point with tactical plans. All in preparation for his next job.
Could it be back in Scotland? Clark doesn’t rule it out as he said: “I’m glad I went to Scotland. It gave me a different thought process.
“I’m not someone who is sucked in by the general consensus in England about the standard of Scottish football.
“When I went there, it was nothing like that. The young players are coming back and just need guidance.
Look from Brendan Rodgers to Steve now, top, top managers are offering that guidance.
“I enjoyed the football. There’s an honesty about it on the pitch and in the stands and there is lots of talent.”
Wherever he goes in the future, though, there will always be a piece of Clark at Killie.
He concluded: “I’ve been back to Rugby Park. I’ve watched a game. I’ve been to other Premiership games, Championship games. It’s important to stay in touch with players and teams.
“But my only memories of Killie are fond.
“I hope I made friends for life. Supporters and people behind the scenes. It’s a great club. And I’m delighted they are getting the success they deserve.”