One of the best things that has came about with the change in Sunderland’s transfer approach has been how they’ve focused on buying young players at big clubs who can make a name for themselves here instead - and at the same time, improve the club’s chances of meeting their own ambitions.
One of the biggest examples of this is today’s birthday boy, Jack Clarke.
Clarke, who turns 22 today, has become one of the most integral and consistent performers in Tony Mowbray’s team this season.
With four goals and six assists to his name, he’s displayed some of the potential that made him one of the most sought-after and spoken-about English players of his generation.
It seems somewhat bewildering to think that Jack is only 22 years of age considering the number of teams he has already played for in his career - having featured for Leeds, Tottenham, QPR, Stoke and Sunderland to date.
It was at Leeds where he made his name in 2018 when he regularly featured under Marcelo Bielsa in his first season at the club. He featured in over 20 games across the entire season contributing two goals and a few assists - showing the clear ability that he possessed, and as some may remember, he even featured in the playoff semi final against Derby County that Leeds famously threw away against Frank Lampard’s men.
As is always the danger with young players, Clarke’s clear ability was being watched and scouted by big Premier League teams including Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur.
It was the latter that he joined in a 10 million pound deal which underlined how highly he was rated, despite only playing 20 senior games.
As part of the deal, Clarke returned to Elland Road for the 2019/20 season. However this time it wasn’t as plain sailing for the youngster - and with Bielsa’s men flying in the league, he saw opportunities rare to come by.
Tottenham were said to be unhappy with this and cancelled the loan deal in December 2019 to ensure he found opportunities to play elsewhere. Despite not giving him much game time, Bielsa appeared to express his happiness with his progress - though suggesting it was slower than he may have anticipated at that particular time.
I am very grateful to Clarke.
He made his contribution in this part of the season. Even though I didn’t use him, in the last days, he had improved his performance.
But just when this process was going on, Tottenham decided to ask Leeds for Clarke to go back.
After a couple of disappointing loan spells, Jack dropped to League One with Sunderland in the hope of revitalising, refreshing and redeeming his fortunes.
With Alex Neil attempting to shore up Sunderland’s leaky defence, he offered freedom to his attacking players such as Ross Stewart, Patrick Roberts and Clarke to do their thing. It appeared to suit Clarke’s style - with his pace and trickery absolutely frightening defences in the third tier.
This was most prominent in the playoffs, with Clarke assisting the vital goal for Patrick Roberts in the second leg against Sheffield Wednesday.
This season has been very successful for the young man from York. Despite some moments of inconsistency - which are to be expected - Clarke has shown to be one of the most important players for the team this season. He seems to have found a club where he is loved and settled in - offering him the opportunity to find consistency.
With Tony Mowbray known for bringing on younger players, I don’t think he could be at a better place in his career right now for his development.
Happy Birthday to the young man - hopefully, he comes back fighting fit and refreshed for our clash against Millwall next week!