Twenty million reasons why Sunderland must keep Jack Clarke

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The Black Cats winger continues to be in demand, as the January transfer window nears its conclusion

We are so very nearly there, folks. After weeks of fraught speculation and unwelcome timeline jump scares, Sunderland have just 48 hours or so left to endure, depending on when you're reading this, before Jack Clarke's future on Wearside is ensured for the rest of the season.

At times it has felt like being trapped in a secluded farmhouse as hoards of hungry zombies batter at the window shutters and bellow through the letterbox. The interest has been ravenous, the gossip stubborn in the way that a lot of brainless things are. Soon, however, dawn will be upon us, and the morning sun should bring with it a renewed sense of optimism. For now, at least.

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Without wishing to tempt fate or curse anything, at the time of writing, it would appear that Clarke shall remain a Sunderland player beyond the end of the January transfer window. It should go without saying that this is a very, very good thing. It is no exaggeration to suggest that were it not for the wiry winger and his contributions this season, the Black Cats would be nowhere near the play-off race. Across 29 Championship outings this term, he has registered 13 goals and three assists, with many of those having a material effect on the final outcome of matches. In a team whose strikers have scored just twice between them since the beginning of the campaign, he is vital.

The most recent rejected bid for Clarke came courtesy of Serie A giants Lazio, who are understood to have tabled an offer in the region of £13.6 million for the 23-year-old last week. Given the sell-on clause that is broadly said to be nestled in the fine print of his contract at the Stadium of Light, Sunderland would have received around £10.4 million of that fee. Since then, Lazio have supposedly returned with an improved proposal, but transfer guru Fabrizio Romano, a man who has made a career out of knowing such things, is adamant that in the eyes of the Black Cats, Clarke is not for sale this winter.

Instead, the suggestion is that Sunderland will tighten their grip on the talismanic wide man before a precarious fork in the road is navigated at the end of the campaign. The hope will be that Clarke's presence over the coming months will help the Black Cats to sneak into the play-off places and then onwards to promotion, with a pit stop at Wembley on the way. If that happens, then there is no reason to believe that he wouldn't stay at the club, playing the Premier League football that he so desperately craves, and of which he is so obviously deserving.

If, however, Sunderland fail in their bid to go up, then Romano claims that Clarke's asking price will be set at around £25.6 million - a valuation that would return somewhere closer to £20 million once that pesky sell-on clause is taken into account.

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To that end, Sunderland's determination to retain Clarke's services this month feels like a win-win, provided they can hang on long enough to make it a reality. In an ideal world, his influence would be the deciding factor that takes them back to the fabled uplands of the Premier League, a promotion that would be symbiotic in its prosperity.

But even if the Black Cats fall short, as they did last season, and Clarke is sold in the hazy freneticism of summer, they would, in essence, stand to double the subsequent incoming transfer fee. Either way, having come this far, Sunderland need to grit their teeth and barrel on just a little bit further. Clarke simply must stay.

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