The January transfer window, for Premier League clubs at least, generally serves one of two purposes, with exceptions to the rule incredibly rare.
If you’re a top flight team that’s embroiled in a relegation battle, you’re probably not averse to spending big and adding an injection of quality that might help you avoid the drop.
After all, such an investment could pay huge dividends if you manage to evade the doomsday scenario of plunging through the trapdoor, and with the stakes higher than ever, many feel that it’s a risk worth taking.
At the other end of the table, the temptation to dip into the market and bring in a big name or two who could help you to secure European football or maybe go a little further in a cup competition is very strong as well.
With that in mind, I honestly believe that Jack Clarke’s Sunderland career isn’t as close to being cut dramatically short as some might claim.
Whether it’s Burnley, Brentford, Crystal Palace or another as-yet-unnamed top flight club, the brilliant winger is clearly attracting attention from the Premier League, and that’s not a bad thing at all. Clarke is a superb footballer with a high ceiling and the potential to go a long way in the game, even if his move from Leeds United to Tottenham Hotspur didn’t quite work out as he’d planned.
Personally, I like the fact that our players are being watched by clubs in the league above. It shows that we’re a place where talent can thrive as opposed to being stifled, and that’s a welcome change in itself after so many years of the opposite being true.
The time to worry is when nobody is paying attention to your players, and as our legion of young prospects continues to improve, it’s a good bet that the interest will grow stronger.
When it comes to Clarke, we’d all love to think that he’s receiving the best advice from the people who truly have his best interests at heart - the coaches and support staff, as opposed to his agent.
Who’s to say that Tony Mowbray and possibly Kristjaan Speakman haven’t already spoken to Clarke and told him to bide his time, continue to rip the Championship apart, and wait for an even bigger and more lucrative top flight move next summer?
“Stay for the entire season, Jack. Show them what you can do, and then you’ll get your big move next summer”, could well be the message being passed to him, and that’s the best thing he could hear.
Right now, it’s difficult to see an environment that would be better for his development.
He’s a first choice pick at a team that’s progressing nicely. He’s able to play his natural game and express himself without the fear of failure, and he’s adored by the Sunderland supporters.
For a player at such a stage of his career, that’s a perfect situation, and despite the fact that he could certainly earn more money elsewhere, that could be countered by the fact that he might not get as much game time in the top flight. Mowbray trusts Clarke implicitly, and he might find that wouldn’t be the case elsewhere.
What’s really encouraging right now is that Clarke is showing no signs of being distracted by the speculation, and nor does he appear even remotely unsettled at the Stadium of Light.
He’s well on target to turn in one of the most impressive seasons by a Sunderland attacker in recent times, and he’s surely a certainty to crack the twenty goals and assists mark if he stays for the entire campaign.
Do that and his value will soar, and there’s every chance that his suitors will expand beyond the teams who’ve reportedly declared an interest in him.
If we can retain Clarke’s services for the entirety of the 2023/2024 campaign, our negotiating position could be very strong next summer, and it’s not an exaggeration to claim that in today’s market, with fees heading skywards and the so-called ‘English tax’ on young, homegrown players, you’d easily be looking at £30 million for a player of his class.
It’s obvious that under Speakman and company, we've got no intention of being soft touches in the transfer market, and especially when it comes to our prized assets. We saw this when Ross Stewart left for Southampton, and that set a precedent that'll hopefully be adhered to in the future.
Clarke hasn’t just grasped the opportunity we gave him when he joined from Spurs after things didn’t quite work out in North London. Instead, he’s grabbed it, ran with it, and hasn’t looked back.
OK, he’ll leave Sunderland for pastures new at some stage in the future, but another full season of Clarke tearing the opposition apart in red and white is something that the hierarchy should be working very hard to accomplish, and I’m 100% certain they will be.