Halfway through a conversation with Alex Dyer, a running theme becomes apparent.
The Englishman quit as Steve Clarke’s assistant with Scotland to focus on managing Kilmarnock last summer.
A full year since the two men last worked together, however, Dyer still refers to his former colleague by just one word. Gaffer.
Steve Clarke’s former assistant Alex Dyer speaks about the Scotland boss with huge respect
Dyer sees Clarke as a ‘players’ manager’ and one the squad will always love playing for
‘Steve will always be the gaffer to me,’ Dyer told Sportsmail, ‘No question. He always has been and he always will be. I spoke to him the day of the England game.
‘I was coming back from Scotland after doing a bit of media work and I was on the way back down south when I called him before my flight in the afternoon.
‘He took the call and we had a little chat. I always say to him, “Gaffer, I don’t really want to call you when you’re busy”.
‘But he always says, “Any time, you call any time”. So we still have that relationship. The man is top drawer.’
After a deflating 2-0 defeat to the Czech Republic, Clarke’s Scots climbed back on the Euro train with a battling draw against England at Wembley.
Back in English football as assistant manager of Colchester United after leaving Killie by mutual consent earlier this year, Dyer watched last Friday’s showdown with just one regret. He would have loved to have been back by the gaffer’s side under the Wembley arch, playing his part in a memorable night.
He is currently the assistant manager at Colchester having left Kilmarnock by mutual consent
‘Yeah, 100 per cent I would like to have been part of that,’ he admitted. ‘Who wouldn’t?
‘I knew when I took the Kilmarnock job that I would have to give up the Scotland role, but that’s a sacrifice you have to make if you want to manage.
‘You want to have your own team and put your own ideas out there — that’s just the way it is.
‘But I don’t have any regrets about the course I took. I have always kept in touch with the gaffer and if there was a chance to go back then, of course, I would like that. But I will always be grateful for the opportunity to work with Steve.’
Born in East London, Dyer spent his entire playing career in the English game before working as a PE teacher.
His relationship with Clarke began at West Ham United, where he progressed to become reserve team coach. A conversation with Clarke, then the assistant manager to Gianfranco Zola, ended with an informal agreement to work together again one day.
The chance finally came when the Ayrshireman returned home to manage Kilmarnock in October 2017, retaining Dyer as his Scotland assistant on a part-time basis two years later.
The pair’s relationship began when Clarke was an assistant to Gianfranco Zola at West Ham
‘The gaffer knows I am hard-working and loyal and we have kept in touch down the years,’ said the 55-year-old.
‘His strengths are trust and loyalty. He is such a good coach, but it’s harder to be good manager than it is a good coach — and the gaffer does both.
‘I’m biased, obviously, but I know the man and I know the way he conducts himself. He gives players freedom and he is not one to be around them all the time.
‘He lets them have their own space, he is not always man- marking them. He is a players’ manager, definitely. I have been in that camp and you can see that they respect him.
‘There is no messing around, he is honest. And he will have your back every day. He will always look after his players and, even if he doesn’t want to play you, you are still his boy.
‘It hurts him when they don’t play well. Or they have an indifferent performance. He wants to put that right straight away. He believes in his boys.’
A thrawn streak of loyalty was evident in a brave decision to stick by Stephen O’Donnell at Wembley.
Placed under scrutiny after the Czech Republic defeat, the Motherwell defender confounded critics with his mental strength against England.
The faith put in Stephen O’Donnell was rewarded with a stellar performance against England
‘Stephen is a good lad,’ added Dyer. ‘He is honest and the gaffer knows what he gets from him.
‘There was no question of him letting him down or not playing him against England.
‘He had two good years with Stephen at Kilmarnock and he never lets you down.
‘He is hard-working and, if he does have an indifferent game, he will fight back. I didn’t think he played that badly against the Czechs, he started off a little bit nervous like everyone else.
‘The gaffer is loyal. He analysed everything and looked at it and thought: “He didn’t do that bad and deserves a chance to play on an occasion like Wembley”.
‘Stephen knew people would be watching against the English and he produced a hell of a performance. That’s the character of the man.’
Dyer’s own mental strength came under scrutiny latterly at Kilmarnock. Part of the management team which helped the club secure European football and third place in the Premiership, he took on the manager’s role after Clarke quit — then left three months before a collapse into the Championship under successor Tommy Wright.
‘I saw Billy Bowie (Kilmarnock owner) the other day,’ he revealed. ‘He was going to Wembley and I had a good chat with him, his wife and two boys at the airport.
‘I said how sorry I was about Kilmarnock going down and I meant that. I didn’t think it would happen, to be honest.
Dyer believes Clarke will not walk away and is likely to stay where he is for the time being
‘I thought there was enough there to keep them in the league.
‘When I left, we were five points above relegation, so I expected them to be okay. I was disappointed they went down, but you move on and hopefully Kilmarnock will bounce back.’
Back in football again, he harbours hopes of working with Clarke again one day.
The Scotland boss is under contract until the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, but English clubs will have been reminded of his coaching ability at Wembley.
‘I wouldn’t know in that sense what he is thinking,’ added Dyer. ‘He has a job with Scotland and he will want to see it through.
‘Until he feels it’s not right — or the SFA feel that’s the case — then he won’t walk away. That’s not him.
‘He loves the day-to-day of being at a football club, but he has this job and he knows there are good players there.
‘They know what they have to do against Croatia, they’ve got to win. It’s a good time to be Scotland manager and he wants to be at the helm.
‘I think he feels this is his time to lead his country.’