Clarke plays down Chelsea connection

West Brom head coach Steve Clarke insists it is too early to start touting him as a possible successor to interim Chelsea manager Rafael Benitez this summer.

Steve Clarke

But Clarke, who spent nearly 20 years at Stamford Bridge as player and coach, concedes it is his ambition to manage "a big club" at some stage of his career.

Benitez has confirmed he will be leaving the Blues this summer after an outburst against the club for naming him as an "interim" appointment and the supporters who verbally abuse him.

Clarke is in his first senior managerial role at the Hawthorns and has steered Albion into seventh spot in the Barclays Premier League.

But any ambitions about eventually being in charge of one of the Premier League's leading sides are for the future.

Clarke said: "I think it's too early to start connecting me with Chelsea. There are a lot of managers that are out there who have a better case than me.

"Wherever I am on the bookmakers list is a good indication and I'm sure I'm not in the list at 50-1 even!

"Listen, you've hit me with a question that has come out of left field because I haven't even thought about it.

"I'm not even a year into the job here. Up to now it has been a great season and I haven't looked anywhere beyond that."

But Clarke added: "If you are asking me if I want to manage a top team in the future? Of course I do.

"If you don't have that ambition to further and better yourself than you shouldn't be in the game. But it's not for now.

"The dream for me is we go to Chelsea and play as well as we can and get another three points.

"I cannot look so far ahead. It's not my nature. You guys should know that by know."

Clarke said: "The connection with Chelsea is inevitable. I can't do anything about the connection.

"Chelsea is a big part of me, I spent 20 years there out of nearly 50 in my life.

"It's a good club, good players, good team, always challenging for trophies and beyond that I don't see anything else."

Clarke confirmed that contract talks have opened with striker Shane Long and central defender Gareth McAuley, who both have 17 months to run of their current deals.

The duo have been in fine form at opposite ends of the pitch this season, with the McAuley-Jonas Olsson and Long-Romelu Lukaku partnerships gelling to telling effect.

Clarke said: "As far as I know, Shane's advisors have spoken to (the club's technical director) Richard Garlick about possibly a new contract.

"That is as far as I know. That has been spoken about. Shane has been great all season, right from the first game against Liverpool.

"He has got that hunger, tenacity and desire that drags the rest of the team with him when he plays.

"Sometimes the lone striker role can be a hard role. It is one some strikers don't like but he has shown this year that he relishes the challenge of playing up there on his own."

As regards McAuley, Clarke said: "Talks are ongoing with Gareth and his advisors. There are ongoing talks over a contract.

"Albion are always a club that tend to run on shorter contracts, which means you will have more dialogue with players and agents about extending contracts.

"Anyone who has watched McAuley this season will know that age (33) is not even an issue.

"His performances this season and last season have been top class. He has got his chance late in the Premier League and has been one of the most consistent performers for Albion this season."

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