After running away with the Championship title last season, it’s become apparent that Burnley have zeroed in on Jack Clarke as a potential addition to their ranks as they prepare for life in the top flight under Vincent Kompany.
With Nathan Tella having returned to Southampton and attacking reinforcements needed, it’s easy to see why Clarke would be attracting admiring glances from Turf Moor.
During an impressive 2022/2023 season, the young winger racked up more than twenty goals and assists and established himself as one of the Championship’s most exciting and dynamic players, thrilling our fans at home and away with some superb displays along the way.
There’s no doubt that the former Leeds and Tottenham attacker’s reputation is burgeoning, and Burnley clearly feel he’s got the ability to step up into the top flight and potentially make an impact in Lancashire.
However, if any nerves are jangling within the Sunderland fanbase in response to this, the first point to note is that interest in Clarke isn’t actually a bad thing.
Indeed, it’s further proof that our squad is laden with players of genuine quality and limitless potential, rather than middling lower-league driftwood that we couldn’t give away for anything more than a Twix and a can of Coke.
In another time and another era, we would’ve practically had to beg clubs to take players off our hands, or cut them loose when their contracts expired. However, we hold the cards now, and that puts us in a position of real strength.
Despite their interest in Clarke, the way that Burnley are going about trying to lure him to Turf Moor certainly doesn't show due respect to either the player or his club.
In recent weeks, a series of bids have arrived, each slightly higher than the last, but all significantly short of what he’s worth in today’s market.
The most recent, an offer of £9 million, would probably buy you his boots and his Sunderland jersey, but in reality, that’s small change for a player of his talent and potential, particularly when players such as James Trafford are the subject of bids of £19 million from the same club.
Incremental increases are a classic way of testing the nerve of the club to whom the player belongs, and seeing whether they’re liable to cave in and sell for the first vaguely attractive figure that comes along.
That’s clearly what's happening now, but if Burnley see us as a soft touch, they’ll hopefully prove to be sadly mistaken.
Clarke’s agent, Ian Harte, has offered no indications that his charge is unhappy or unsettled on Wearside, but we all know that every player has his value and it’ll be interesting to see exactly how far Burnley are willing to go.
Ironically, this could be a scenario during which Kristjaan Speakman’s dogged determination to stick to a plan and not be swayed by external opinions- something for which he’s often been criticised- works in our favour.
Frankly, he’s well within his rights to say to Burnley, ‘Start the bidding at £20 million and then we’ll talk, otherwise you’re wasting your time and mine’.
Speakman is doubtless aware of Sunderland’s recent history of allowing players to leave for peanuts, and it feels like he’s determined to protect our interests as vigorously as possible.
That’s exactly what we need, and if he does stand firm, it’ll prove that this is truly a ‘new’ Sunderland, a version of the club that’s made of sterner stuff and no longer liable to be pillaged at knockdown rates.
If Clarke remains on Wearside, racks up similar numbers and levels of performance during 2023/2024 and plays a part in either promotion or another playoff campaign, two things will happen: his value will skyrocket and he’ll doubtless appear on the radars of other top flight clubs, possibly the likes of Aston Villa and Brighton, both of whom are moving forward at pace.
In that scenario, our hand would be strengthened even further but in the meantime, what’s best for Clarke’s immediate future needs to be uppermost in everyone’s mind.
At the moment, he’s onto a very good thing at Sunderland.
He’s loved by the fans and by Tony Mowbray, he’s an automatic starter when fit, and he’s playing in a team to which his style of play, his confidence on the ball and his creative flair is well suited.
That’s surely worth something, even in the money-driven world of modern football, and Mowbray will doubtless be offering the best and wisest advice possible as pre season training continues.
Time is on Clarke’s side and at this stage, there’s no rush for him to chase the Premier League dream.
He’ll doubtless grace that league in the future, hopefully in red and white, but in the meantime, we must stand firm and not allow him or any other of our key players to be picked off for a penny less than their true value.