Kilmarnock fans have quickly had to come to terms with two, new aspects of their…
“Actions speak louder than words” is a well-worn phrase in football, but sometimes a more apt expression for the bizarre, unexpected nature of the transfer window would be “inaction speaks louder than words.” And at Kilmarnock that couldn’t be truer.
While Neil Lennon’s Hibs have hogged much of the back pages with their pursuit of Florian Kamberi, Craig Levein’s Hearts have signed what seems like an entirely new squad, and of course both sides of the Old Firm have been drenched in transfer tales each and every day, there hasn’t really been any news at all coming out of Steve Clarke’s Kilmarnock.
That silence is, undoubtedly, music to the ears of most Killie fans. Last season the Rugby Park side marched up the Scottish Premiership table in superb, uncompromising fashion yet with every win and point earned there was a growing sense that this team – like any other in the modern game that gets too good, too quickly – would quickly be dismantled in the summer.
Yet that simply hasn’t happened. In fact, quite the opposite has ended up being the case. While the Premiership has a habit of rearing young players only to see them jump at the first chance of quadrupling their wages with a move down south, a number of Kilmarnock’s key players have bought into what Clarke is doing at the club and opted to stay put for even longer.
The club’s ever-present goalkeeper, Jamie MacDonald, was the first since the turn of the new year to put pen to paper with a new deal until 2020, stating that Clarke’s arrival had “been a breath of fresh air.” In March, Greg Kiltie also signed a new contract until 2020, midfielder enforcer Alan Power then did the exact same thing, before Rory McKenzie then signed on to a new two-year deal. Before the end of the season, Kilmarnock had also extended the contracts of Eamonn Brophy, Gary Dicker, Greg Taylor, Scott Boyd and Chris Burke.
Each of these players were key members of Clarke’s squad last season and it’s worth noting that it’s no coincidence that the Killie manager and his backroom staff not only convinced so many talented players to stay at Rugby Park, but that just about every one of them was happy to note that the manner in which they’ve developed under their manager was the main reason that they had since committed to the club.
Of course, it’s not just a slight edge in pushing contract negotiations in the club’s favour that Clarke helps with. There has also been a notable absence in players leaving for transfer fees this summer too. Despite the speculation surrounding Jordan Jones, Stephen O’Donnell and Taylor, all three of these exciting prospects remains a Kilmarnock player. Sure, anything could still happen but there’s no suggestion that any are desperate to move on from the progress they’re making under Clarke. And if they are sold one would imagine the terms would be extremely favourable for the Rugby Park side.
Indeed, not only is Clarke a superb manager in the sense that he can provide the tactics, systems and personal instructions for Kilmarnock to win games on any given matchday, but he can also lure players into staying or indeed joining that may not have done so in the first place. With the greatest of respects to the Ayrshire side, they probably would have never signed Youssouf Mulumbu if not for Clarke and a number of the aforementioned players may have opted to move on elsewhere instead of signing new deals. A coach like Clarke allows the club to build a long-term strategy and formidable side.
Which, naturally, then makes this coming season all the more exciting. This week the squad flew off to their training camp in Spain, getting set for a new season that kicks off with a League Cup clash against St Mirren on July 13. If Clarke is a manager that excels because of the due diligence he puts into preparing his side for their next opponent, one can only imagine how prepared this Kilmarnock team will be now given that so many of them have been tied down to longer contracts and will have a full pre-season behind them. A quiet summer at Rugby Park suggests another noisy league campaign is in store.