Last season I completely failed to see anything in Jack Clarke up until the final few games, but that shows how much I know about football because since moving to the club on a permanent basis he’s been excellent.
I wonder how much his slow start at Sunderland had to do with some underwhelming loan spells at other clubs, and the fact that he was playing a new position. One thing I think we can say for certain is that Clarke is coachable, because he seems to be improving with every game.
Whether he’s a long-term option at wing-back I have no idea, but his pace and dribbling ability make him a really potent threat, and coming in off the left to put dangerous balls into key areas with his right foot is becoming his forte.
There’s a reason why Leeds handed him a first team debut at such a young age, and why Spurs spent so much money on him: the lad has a lot of talent and what we’ve seen so far certainly suggests that he could be a very shrewd piece of business by the club.
I don’t really have any pointers for what I’d like to see him work on, as he’s doing a fine job out of position right now, so I just hope he keeps it up and then when we sign some more players and competition he not only solidifies his place in the side by adding more goals and assists, but also becomes one of the most important players in the side.
Kingsley Reavley says…
I’ve been very impressed.
It is great to see a young player whose career was beginning to falter finally find a footballing home with us.
Last season, Clarke showed flashes of what he was capable of, but now he’s added a degree of consistency to his game. He is one of the best ball carriers I’ve ever seen play for Sunderland, with his close control and agility making it almost impossible for defenders to dispossess him without committing a foul.
Clarke’s ability with both feet is often underrated. He has the skill to manipulate the ball and he is a relatively quick player, so he can often beat the opposing full-back for pace. There aren’t any major weaknesses in his game, and he has the potential to become a brilliant player.
We also need to remember that Clarke effectively plays most games as a wing-back, which is a position he was not accustomed to playing in his youth. This means that he is learning on the job and is adding more of a defensive aspect to his game, which makes his form even more impressive.
One area that he could look to improve is his final ball, as well as his propensity to overplay at times, but he is still only twenty one, and time is very much on his side.
Alex Neil seems to have an excellent relationship with the younger players, who in turn have really bought into his ideas, so I have no doubts that any weaknesses in Clarke’s game could be addressed out on the training field.
I’m glad we tied him down to a four-year deal, and I think that we’ve got a huge asset on our hands!
Mitch Marshall says...
Echoing the sentiments of others, I think that Clarke is yet another triumph for Alex Neil’s managerial style and coaching methods.
I would have let him return to Spurs at the end of last season; don’t get me wrong, I loved his contribution during our play-off campaign, but I was more focused on bringing back the likes of Bailey Wright and Patrick Roberts, both of whom had been more consistent performers up to that point.
However, I did wonder whether Clarke might be better suited to the Championship than League One.
He seems to be adjusting to the physicality of this division as time goes by, and I think that he also benefits from playing in a league where there is greater emphasis on what he can do with the ball.
Neil has brought out these qualities in abundance, and has helped Clarke become more solid and hard-working defensively. These were traits that I remember him lacking in certain games last season, notably against Oxford away.
I do feel that Clarke can still drift in and out of games a bit too often, as he did against Stoke at the weekend, but he showcased his quality with the assist for the winning goal, and his performance only improved from that point on.
That’s just the sort of mercurial talent he is, and at the moment, he is worth sticking with.
Kev Barker says...
I’ve been impressed with Clarke, but not surprised by how well he has started this season.
I feel that he is one of those players that is well-suited to the higher standard of the Championship, and the extra space and protection that you get when playing against better teams.
He has everything needed to be a top player: trickery, vision and pace, and he must be a nightmare for defenders to play against.
I think it’s consistency that he needs to add, as sometimes he has quiet games and can give the ball away a lot. If he can improve that side of his game, as well as scoring more goals, he will be key for us this season, assuming that we can establish a system that allows him to play as an out-and-out winger.
Malc Dugdale says...
I’ve been as impressed with Clarke as I have the rest of the Lads, and I would openly encourage him to keep doing what he is doing: working hard, improving his contributions at both ends of the pitch (which is key, given how we are playing him) and growing as a footballer as the season progresses.
This is especially important as changes can happen quickly and easily.
His scoring partner in the playoff semi-final at Hillsborough, Patrick Roberts, hasn’t had much of a chance at all this season. Alex Neil has put that down to Roberts’ ability (or lack thereof) to align with our shape and tactics. We may change those tactics and our formation at any time, either due to a perceived tactical advantage against a particular opponent, or due to the depth of the squad and injuries/international games/fixture congestion.
Signings could enable us to change who and how we play, so there are many moving parts.
All Clarke can do is keep playing well and developing, as he has no control over the other factors. He has been a great signing, and also has a great coaching setup around him, so his future is very bright.
If he can keep improving his tracking back, keep his head up for passes like the one that put Ross Stewart in on Saturday, and maybe improve his physicality, he will do very well in red and white.