Sunderland winger Jack Clarke isn’t even that good... honest
The Black Cats winger has been a standout performer for Tony Mowbray’s team this season
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Jack Clarke isn’t even that good. Honest. Pay no heed to the giddying stats or the suggestive evidence of the naked eye - never mind Sunderland’s obstinate insistence that he is worth a bare minimum of £15 million, or the manner in which the Black Cats clung to him, white-knuckled and fierce, this summer. It’s all just smoke and mirrors, a conspiracy trickled down to the masses as overspill from the shadowy machinations of ‘Big Winger’.
He is, at best, a human boondoggle - busy work incarnate. Sure, he buzzes and flits, but he is much more bluebottle than wasp. Even his manager, the venerable Tony Mowbray, has openly claimed that he can be ‘frustrating’ to wrangle.
In fact, if anybody affiliated with Burnley, Crystal Palace, or any other lower to mid-table Premier League club is reading, let me concentrate the general gist of this article into a singular, blunt aphorism then allow you to carry on with the rest of your day; Jack Clarke is not worth the time or the effort. Catch you later, thanks for stopping by!
Right, now that lot have cleared off and it’s only the Mackems left, let us speak frankly. Jack Clarke might just be the brightest attacking talent in the Championship today. So good is he that I feel as if I have committed a filthy heretical act by using the written word to disparage him, even in jest. May the gods forgive me.
Because, truly, it is difficult to remember the last time that Sunderland possessed a player as capable of single-handedly swinging the pendulum of a match in their favour. Others, of course, have boasted varying degrees of delightful chicanery, or a Nokia Snake directness, but rarely have the Black Cats had somebody who marries the two so seamlessly. Clarke is like the Artful Dodger and a Japanese bullet train all rolled into one.
The manner in which he can seize a game by the scruff of the neck and drag it, flailing and protesting, in the opposite direction, is nothing short of astounding. So far this season, the 22-year-old has completed 76 progressive carries with the ball at his feet. Not only is that the highest in the Championship, but the second-highest tally belongs to Southampton’s Kyle Walker-Peters, who has registered a comparatively meagre 45. Indeed, after eight matches, Clarke has made more positive dribbles than the entirety of Sheffield Wednesday’s squad combined. There’s no two ways about it, that is absurd.
And then there is the small matter of his end product. At the time of writing, Clarke has struck five goals in eight Championship outings this term. Again, nobody in the division has scored more. But what really impresses about the Sunderland winger’s contribution is just how low his expected goals tally is. Even taking into account the brace of penalties that Clarke has buried this season, his xG sits at a modest 2.9, meaning that he has already notched a pair of strikes that he had no statistical right to.
In some respects, that is emblematic of Clarke as a player. To look at him, with his pipe cleaner frame and limbs like a newborn foal, you would be justified in assuming that he is a certain sort of presence: a featherweight, a feather boa - slight, easy on the eye, but lacking in meaningful force. Instead, he dances the touchline like a Yorkshire Peter Pan, brazen and elusive, his right foot glinting with a rapier’s intent. The campaign is young, but you would be a fool to bet against him exceeding last season’s combined harvest of 25 goals and assists.
How long Sunderland can keep Clarke remains to be seen. There was heavy, suffocating interest over the summer, and the winger’s current streak of glittering form is unlikely to dissuade any observers as to his readiness for a crack at Premier League football. It is worth remembering too that the Black Cats’ transfer model is, after all, founded on a buy-low/sell-high principle that means any serious bid for the player would presumably be considered.
Until that dreadful day comes, however, all Sunderland can do is bask in his ever-brightening glow. Because for all it was a cheap bit, I meant what I said at the start of this article; Jack Clarke isn’t as good as you think... he’s even better.