The inside track on Sunderland's Jack Clarke swoop - and where he fits into Lee Johnson's plans

If you had asked Sunderland supporters where they felt the club needed to strengthen in the aftermath of Patrick Roberts' arrival last week, another winger would have been unlikely to place top of the list.

By Phil Smith
Wednesday, 26th January 2022, 2:31 pm

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Of course, Jack Clarke's arrival fits neatly with the club's revamped recruitment model, one that has already yielded some encouraging results.

Particularly while at this level, Sunderland feel they can extract significant value from kickstarting the careers of players who for one reason or another have not quite made the progress they would have liked.

Alex Pritchard is the biggest success on that front, with hopes high that Patrick Roberts will be the next.

Jack Clarke. (Photo by Robbie Jay Barratt - AMA/Getty Images)

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They also feel they can establish themselves as a natural destination for youngsters who need game time and will benefit from a clear, progressive style of play, as

Dennis Cirkin and Nathan Broadhead have done.

Clarke, then, is a natural fit on both fronts.

At 21 his career has barely begun, but he will nevertheless be eager to build on the promise of his breakthrough campaign at Leeds United under Marcelo Bielsa.

Though Sunderland's attacking midfield options are increasingly strong, there is logic in the addition of another wide player.Josh Hawkes has left for Tranmere Rovers on a permanent deal, while Jack Diamond is expected to return to Harrogate Town for the second half of the campaign.

Aiden McGeady is expected to return to play a part before the end of the campaign, but is currently still recovering and has only made a very light return to certain parts of training.

He will need time to get back up to full match fitness, and so it would be a significant gamble to be reliant on his form through the closing stages of the campaign.

Johnson is eager to avoid a scenario like the one he had only a fortnight ago, when Alex Pritchard was forced to play through a knock and the options to change from the bench were minimal.

What Clarke also brings, and this is crucial, is versatility.

In his comments after the signing was confirmed, Johnson noted how in the last six months he felt Clarke had found 'the maturity to pair with the talent'.

The winger had opted not to go out on loan again in the summer, instead seeking to knuckle down at Spurs and push for a place.

While first-team action was hard to come by, he has played well and regularly in the U23 side. Predominantly out wide, as he is comfortable off either flank, but also on occasions through the middle as a striker.

It's thought that Sunderland have been impressed by those performances, and feel that could be another viable option between now and the end of the season. (though more permanent, Broadhead went through a similar shift at Everton last season).

It underlines Johnson's point about 'being able to change games as we move into the back end of the season'. Clarke brings both versatility and dynamism.

Like Roberts, there is no guarantee of success and Sunderland's model brings risks when pushing for automatic promotion.

They certainly still need another striker to support Ross Stewart, with talks to try and bring Jermain Defoe back to the club ongoing.

Manage that, and they will have an exciting array of options.

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