In a somewhat unexpected turn of events, Bury announced Lee Clark as their new manager on Wednesday afternoon after the club agreed a ‘compensation package’ with SPFL side Kilmarnock for his services on a two and a half year deal. It marks the first time in my lifetime of supporting the club (from early 1994) that they have hired a manager who was already in post elsewhere.
Much more important than that however is the timing of this change. It could be argued on the face of it that former head coach Chris Brass was improving results as of late (if not performances). There are 14 games to get their collective heads back above water and it is certainly not an insurmountable task given the number remaining.
What doesn’t fill me with joy is Clark’s previous managerial record. There are certainly caveats you can place on his spells in charge of Birmingham and Blackpool but it isn’t so much the mixed results that concerns me as much as the ‘churn’ of players, with an eye-watering number of arrivals into Killie’s first team squad and, like Bury, a large number also arrived in the January transfer window. Somewhat predictably, Clark justified this in his first press conference as Bury manager by stating that he’d managed to get his former into the top six on the back of his extensive recruitment.
Undoubtedly, another summer of tumult is going to take place at Bury, regardless of which division they find themselves in. The Shakers have 11 players out of contract in the summer in almost every position on the pitch:
- Rob Lainton, GK
- Andrew Tutte, CM
- Jacob Mellis, CM/CAM
- Ishmael Miller, ST
- Jermaine Pennant, RM
- Kelvin Etuhu, CDM/CM
- Paul Rachubka, GK
- Chris Brown, ST
- Reece Brown, CB/CDM
- Ryan Lowe, ST
- Niall Maher, CB/RB
The above list doesn’t include the seven loanees or second year scholars from the youth academy who have featured in the first team like the very highly rated Callum Styles. Clark is well within his rights to stamp his own authority on the squad and bring in (and ship out) whoever he sees fit to, of course. It is likely that there’ll be players in addition to the list above leaving as a result of his assessment and for a plethora of other reasons individual to their own set of circumstances. It’s also important not to forget that they have now had three different men in charge of them in just four months and that is likely to have an adverse effect on confidence and knowing whether you’re still going to be employed after the curtain has come down on 2016-2017, regardless of current contract length.
Combining Clark and Bury chairman Stewart Day’s penchant for player churn is going to be a major concern for next season and beyond. The latter is quick to talk about long-term planning and there has definitely been success with regards to anything below the first team on a playing side. The financial grumblings many fans have are unlikely to go away anytime soon, not least because Bury had to pay compensation to Kilmarnock for Clark and cancelling contracts of existing Bury players and enlisting many new ones is unlikely to come cheaply; the last few years of public accounts are testament to that.
I am a firm believer that it is good coaching that can improve a team more noticeably and sustainably over a longer period of time than simply getting rid of someone if they’re not immediately up to scratch, particularly younger players at or near the start of their playing careers. Modern day football is ill-suited to this approach, even at Bury’s level. If a few games are lost in sequence, a lot of supporters immediately question the competency of the manager… and most boardrooms are not far behind. Not every problem has a workable solution and personalities (and egos) will always clash in life; football has a tendency to magnify these frictions given how much out of it is played out in the public eye and often when adrenaline is also high.
To that end, I’m of the opinion that for Clark to be successful at Bury, he must be given time by fans and the board alike. He must also have a slightly different relationship with Day than was the case with David Flitcroft. Flitcroft, arguably the most successful Bury manager this century, still had many flaws, not least of which was being able to adapt tactically if things were not working out and moreover, the churn of players that plagued his reign. Clark must be allowed one clean sweep of both coaching and playing staff and then told that only fewer, more organic changes can be made to help run the club on a more even keel and to get the best out of the resources he has at his disposal.
Both chairman and manager must be able to say ‘no’ to each other without it causing too much tension in their working relationship. Clark must say ‘no’ to any interference in the playing side of things, which has been alleged under Brass’ stewardship. Day must also say ‘no’ to Clark wanting to sign too many players after the summer transfer window is over and to any attempts to change how the youth academy is run, which would be detrimental to the long-term survival of the club.
His job starts in earnest against Chesterfield tomorrow. He is unlikely to have any players returning from injury fit enough to start against the Spireites at the Proact Stadium, but the likes of Danny Mayor, Kean Bryan and Ishmael Miller might be in contention for a place on the bench. Another unknown is what strategy he will adopt from game to game to ensure survival, other than a “winning one”. As a result, the predicted XI involves a little bit of guesswork, coupled with Tom Pope looking off-colour in the past few outings:
As for the hosts, their only success this season in the league has come against the only team currently below them, the much beleaguered Coventry City. Their shape as of late has flitted between a fairly defensive 3-5-2 without the ball to a more standard, rigid 4-4-2, especially in home matches. Infamous striker Ched Evans will miss out through injury and, much like most other sides down at the bottom with the exception of Bury, they have found goals difficult to come by, averaging less than one a game.
Chesterfield like to keep the ball down on the deck than perhaps most teams at the lower end of League One. Expect David Faupala, on loan from Manchester City, to lead the line but whilst he has a strong aerial presence, isn’t a target man by trade and possesses a good amount of pace. Reece Mitchell and Dan Gardner, another name familiar to Bury fans, will look to join in the attacks and look to cut inside to offer support to the strikers. Ian Evatt is always a threat at set pieces and Dion Donohue is as comfortable bombing up the left flank as he is stopping crosses coming in, so it will be interesting to see where he plays and if anyone is pitted directly against him (most likely Jermaine Pennant).
It’s hard to know exactly what to expect from this encounter: both teams desperately need the points and Lee Clark’s appointment has thrown a spanner in the works in terms of preparation for the match. I think he will opt for a slightly more attacking style and match up the Derbyshire outfit in midfield in terms of numbers. Another tight one is on the cards but I’m predicting a 2-1 triumph for Bury. Exile Jr. is much more confident, plumping for a 4-0 shellacking!