Paul Clement has taken the brave decision to strike out on his own as a manager, but can he make a successful transition from being an assistant to the main man?
The 43-year-old has been appointed as Derby County head coach to replace Steve McClaren and he could probably learn a thing or two from his predecessor about making the step up.
McClaren enjoyed a hugely successful spell as assistant to Sir Alex Ferguson at Manchester United and he is a coach who has been able to make an impact as a manager. McClaren performed well at Middlesbrough and also won the Dutch league during his time in charge at FC Twente. Certainly, there have been low points, such as his spell as England boss, at Wolfsburg and Nottingham Forest, but he remains a respected figure in the game.
In contrast, there are numerous examples of an assistant being unable to make the leap into the top job. Brian Kidd, who had also been assistant to Ferguson at United, branched out on his own with Blackburn Rovers, but oversaw their relegation to the Championship in 1999. He has rebuilt his reputation as a number two and there are some coaches who are just much better suited to that role.
Over the next few months, we’ll found out which category Clement falls into. Like McClaren, he has a strong pedigree as a coach and assistant, having been Carlo Ancelotti’s number two at Paris Saint Germain and Real Madrid.
His work at those two clubs generated plenty of interest and you would have needed several free bet offers to back Clement in the next manager market given the number of jobs he was linked to. Newcastle, Sunderland and Brentford were all reported to be interested in appointing Clement before he landed the Derby job.
He has spoken of his ambition to lead Derby into the Premier League and he is likely to need to do it within his three-year contract, if he wants to stay in the job, and prove he can be a manager, in the long term.
The fact he knows Derby chief executive Sam Rush well will stand him in good stead. He will also be accustomed to the structure of being a head coach rather than having the title of manager. Given his experiences at PSG and Real Madrid, Clement will know the coach isn’t solely responsible for transfers and it won’t come as a shock that he isn’t in control of this aspect.
His contacts will also hopefully be a positive for him to bring to Derby. If you look at the example of another former Real assistant – Aitor Karanka – he has used his contacts with Jose Mourinho to sign players on loan from Chelsea for Middlesbrough. Clement will be hopeful of exploiting any relationships with his former clubs to boost his squad with loan signings.
The two key areas Clement will have to demonstrate an aptitude for as a manager, even if not in job title, is dealing with a lesser quality of player and the man-management side of things.
The Derby squad doesn’t compare to the players Clement has worked with at PSG and Real, and he will have to ensure his expectations are tempered accordingly.
And, when it comes to the tough decisions of leaving players out, Clement will need the required character to make those decisions without disrupting team morale.
If Clement can master those facets of being in charge, then he has the pedigree to ensure he will be looked upon as more of a McClaren than a Kidd.
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