Clarke eager to recruit in summer
Steve Clarke insists he is set on strengthening his West Bromwich Albion squad despite what could be the club's highest ever Premier League finish.
The Hawthorns head coach sends out his eighth-placed side at home to Arsenal on Saturday with safety well and truly secured and with reinforcements for 2013-14 in his mind.
"At the end of the August transfer window last year, an e-mail dropped with potential targets," he said. "We're always looking and thinking about how we can improve.
"If you stand still in the Premier League, other teams come charging past you. It's important we don't stand still. We must look to improve the squad and give the players help for next season. Whether that involves spending a little more money than we would normally do, is a discussion for people in the club.
"A lot of clubs have thrown money at a project to try and make a team better and it doesn't always work. You have to find the best way and that doesn't always mean spending £20m and suddenly you are successful.
"If you're clever and sign the right people, like Claudio Yacob for example, you can find some players for less money. But it might be, as the summer goes on, we have to go and find someone who costs us money. That can be the case, for sure.
"The club use the free transfer and loan markets well but the higher up the league you go, the more difficult it becomes to get players from that market to improve your squad."
With the strong Dan Ashworth influence becoming a thing of the past at The Hawthorns, Albion are facing fresh challenges with his successor Richard Garlick.
So can they keep pulling rabbits from the hat in the shape of players like Yacob and Youssouf Mulumbu?
"We have to wait and see what the summer brings in terms of who goes out and who is available," Clarke added. "Then we will try to build our squad. We will do it carefully, as the club always have. I don't see any reason why it should change because by and large the team has improved from year to year.
"We have to improve again. The higher up the league we finish this season, the easier it will be to attract better quality players because every player wants to be part of a successful club or part of a club they think will challenge. Hopefully, we can finish well now and show everybody we're a club that can finish in the top half of the Premier League.
"Four years in this division (including next season) is a good run and I've never called us a yo-yo club. I said when I came in that I saw a good, solid group of Premier League professionals who knew how to get results. I think I've been proven right.
"Character-wise, players have to fit into the dressing room; strong characters, good personalities, people who are determined and have a hunger to be successful. Normally, you find there are not many decisions made in April and May. They come later in the close season. July and August are normally when the signings start to happen."
Clarke is certainly not ready to join those suggesting that Saturday's Hawthorns visitors are due a change at the top after their nine-year run without a trophy. He believes Arsene Wenger deserves the patience of all concerned for what he has done in the past.
"They spend money on attracting younger talents to the club," he said. "They bring people in, then try and develop through the system, which is great if you can do that.
"He had a great start with Arsenal, winning trophy after trophy, so you buy yourself time. Normal cycles are where you have periods at the top and then periods of not being at the top. At the moment, Chelsea aren't at the top either. They have slipped a couple of places down. It's just normal in football that at different times, different clubs will be up there challenging and being the main one or two.
"I'm not sure it (the critical view about Wenger) is held by a lot of supporters there. It's probably a lot of the vocal supporters. Most people at Arsenal would say Arsene has done a great job. If he has a season that is a little bit more disappointing than other seasons, surely they are going to stick by him and see it through and give him the chance to keep building the squad and try to challenge for honours.
"They're a good team with good players. Good teams can have difficult moments but, by and large, they always have good seasons and that's what we're seeing from Arsenal now. They are developing their season. They've got one thing left to fight for - Champions League qualification - and I'm sure they will make it really difficult for us. But it's a game we relish."