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The best place for Jack Clarke is at Sunderland

Speculation about Clarke’s future is rife at the moment, but there’s no reason to panic, and it feels like a good bet that the club will be planning for all eventualities, writes Phil West

Photo by Zac Goodwin/PA Images via Getty Images

When he first arrived at the Stadium of Light as a fresh-faced prospect from Tottenham, Jack Clarke’s talent, confidence and flair for the creative side of the game was clear, even if it wasn’t exactly channelled in the most consistent way.

Sunderland Unveil New Loan Signing Jack Clarke Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

During his early weeks and months in red and white, Clarke sometimes resembled an out-of-control missile.

He loved to get on the ball and take on opposing defenders but his game awareness- when to cut inside or go down the line, when to speed things up or slow them down, and how best to play his teammates in- was often lacking and he didn’t put a very high value on defensive work rate, either.

It wasn’t unexpected for a young player with so little game time under his belt, but there was always something exciting there and I remember being extremely keen to see how he developed, first under Alex Neil and latterly under Tony Mowbray.

Fast forward eighteen months later, and we’re seeing a very different version of Clarke, and not just because he’s more physically imposing and willing to work much harder both in and out of possession.

Yes, he can still be inconsistent at times but on Mowbray’s watch, he's also developed from a willowy winger into a dynamic and potent attacker.

He’s one of our key players; a superb attacking option and as a consequence, he’s apparently catching the eye of top flight clubs.

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Last season, he cracked the twenty goals and assists mark as he played a central role in our top six finish, and he’s another Sunderland player who’s adored by the fans, with his combination of talent, obvious love of the game and work ethic proving to be a major hit with the red and white faithful.

Of course, the fact that Clarke is seemingly on the radar of Premier League clubs has led to plenty of mild panic on social media, but as is often the case, it’s simply not that cut and dried. For a start, he’s got plenty of time left on his contract, so we’re not currently running the risk of being exposed or left rueing a missed opportunity in that regard.

The reality is that interest in our most valuable players is to be expected.

It’s not a cause to panic and it shows that our ethos of helping young footballers to improve through good coaching and a positive environment is working like a charm. Clarke isn’t the only player to have reaped the rewards of Mowbray’s approach, but he’s certainly one of the leading lights in this fearless and exciting team.

In an ideal world, he would stay, hit similar numbers again next season and be part of a Sunderland team that wins promotion. There’s every chance it could happen, but it’s also where some good, strong management is needed, especially in the whirlpool of speculation that the summer always brings.

Our head coach, despite his jovial press conferences and amusing interviews, is a shrewd and extremely capable operator.

If I was Mowbray, I’d be saying something to Clarke along the lines of, “Stay here, Jack. Give us another brilliant season and help us get promoted, and then next summer, let’s see what happens.”

Sunderland v Luton Town: Sky Bet Championship Play-Off Semi-Final First Leg Photo by Alex Dodd - CameraSport via Getty Images

He’ll know that Clarke could easily have his head turned, but he's still young and the likelihood is that he wouldn’t be a regular starter in the top flight just yet.

At Sunderland, however, he’s guaranteed to play whenever he’s fit and he’s got the freedom to express himself. That in itself should be a major factor, not least because of his experience at Tottenham, and as he’s nowhere near the finished article yet, regular game time is a must.

If Clarke does eventually leave, you’d hope it would be for as high a fee as possible (“Start the bidding at £20 million and then we’ll talk,” should be the message from the club to potential suitors) and that the money will be reinvested in the playing squad.

That’s the trick: invest, develop, sell for profit if that’s the best move and repeat, making use of a top class scouting system and worldwide recruiting to keep the squad as strong as possible. It’s the path we’re on, it’s the method we’ve adopted, and we simply have to place our trust in those making the decisions.

Striking a balance between on-field success and running the club as an efficient business is at the very heart of how we’re operating nowadays, and Clarke is a player who embodies it.

He could achieve his ambitions with Sunderland and enjoy a stellar career here, but if he does eventually move on, those making the calls need to be ready and ensure that the whole plan isn’t derailed if and when a key player bids farewell to the Stadium of Light.


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