After 517 days out of the transfer market, Tottenham have made a new signing – so what convinced prudent Spurs to splash out on Jack Clarke?
The 18-year-old winger has joined Tottenham for an undisclosed fee from Leeds United, becoming boss Mauricio Pochettino’s first signing since Lucas Moura on the final day of the January transfer window in 2018.
Clarke, who only made his first-team debut in October, has been immediately loaned back to the Championship side for the 2019/20 campaign but clearly has a bright future ahead of him at Tottenham.
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Here, Tom Mordey looks at how Clarke burst onto the scene at Leeds and why he has convinced Tottenham to end their transfer drought…
Leeds’ latest academy star…
It’s an academy known for its famous faces. Leeds might have been out of the Premier League for 15 years, but that has not stopped the conveyor belt of talent at Thorp Arch producing top young players – and Clarke is the latest exciting sensation.
All of England’s major tournament squads during Leeds’ top-flight absence have still contained a graduate from their academy – be it Paul Robinson, James Milner, Danny Rose or Fabian Delph. Unfortunately for Leeds fans, their failure to secure a return to the Premier League is forcing them to sell on their local talent.
Clarke becomes the latest to be sold on and his departure will certainly hurt the Leeds fans – just as the sales of Lewis Cook, Sam Byram and Charlie Taylor did in recent times. The season-long loan will be a short-term boost – but the long-term gain will be Tottenham’s.
Trusted by Bielsa…
Clarke first came to attention in 2017. Amid talk of a move to Manchester City, he signed a professional deal on his 17th birthday and made the Leeds bench in the FA Cup defeat to Newport, although he did not come on. Despite other academy players getting their opportunity under Paul Heckingbottom as Leeds’ 2017/18 campaign fell apart, Clarke was kept under wraps.
Enter Marcelo Bielsa. He took a keen interest in the club’s up and coming players when reviewing who could take Leeds forward and handed Clarke his debut in a 1-1 draw with Brentford.
From then on, Clarke became a regular fixture in Leeds’ matchday squads, showing glimpses of his quality from the bench. He threatened Reading down the flank during a gritty win at Elland Road in November after joining the action at half-time before his first assist came at Sheffield United, picking Dean Henderson’s pocket to tee up Pablo Hernandez for a late winner a few days later.
However, it was a trip to Villa Park in December that really caught the eye. With Leeds 2-0 down, Clarke again was a half-time substitute. He changed the game. Ahmed Elmohamady was ripped apart, with Clarke scoring the first in a comeback victory that sent Leeds top at Christmas.
Another goal followed at the City Ground on New Year’s Day, with Clarke threatening Nottingham Forest, again as a half-time introduction with Leeds chasing the game.
Clarke made his first start later that week in an FA Cup defeat to QPR and Bielsa stuck with him for the visit of Derby the following weekend. With the ante ramped up pre-match after the visitors’ Spygate allegations, Clarke produced another outstanding display, setting up Kemar Roofe’s opener and providing the ball that led to the second goal as well. His opponent that day, Max Lowe, went straight back on loan to Aberdeen.
With the world at his feet, Clarke’s name was the talk of the January window. Premier League clubs were circling aplenty, with Tottenham’s interest also becoming clear early on. Leeds held on to their young talent, banking on his abilities out wide to keep the promotion bid flying. After all, they had just missed out on Daniel James.
But things changed on February 9. Clarke had started at the Riverside, with Leeds facing a tricky encounter against Middlesbrough. Four defeats in six league games had Leeds wobbling, but the winger struggled to make inroads and was replaced at half-time having complained of feeling unwell.
Clarke then collapsed in the dugout during the second half. He was treated and taken to hospital, before being sidelined with a virus. It was over a month till Clarke reappeared in Leeds colours.
As Leeds’ promotion hopes fell away, Clarke struggled to have the same sort of impact. He did not start another game and never played more than half an hour in one match.
Clarke still won the club’s Young Player of the Year award, also featuring regularly in the club’s U23’s PDL National title win, scoring the winning penalty against Birmingham in a shoot-out.
After the play-off defeat to Derby, speculation intensified about Clarke’s future and it became apparent his time at Leeds was up.
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What attracted Spurs?
Tottenham have been on the lookout for a young winger who can play on either side of their attack, and they believe Clarke will develop into a top English talent.
It’s easy to tell what Clarke’s key attribute is right now: dribbling.
Clarke’s dribbling stats – 2018/19 Championship (min 500 mins played) Player Club Dribbles completed per 90 Minutes played Said Benrahma Brentford 3.3 2451 Kasey Palmer Blackburn, Bristol City 3.2 1174 Jack Clarke Leeds 3.0 811 Joe Rothwell Blackburn 2.9 1542 Joe Lolley Nottingham Forest 2.8 3537
Clarke ranked third in terms of completed dribbles by players who had played over 500 minutes in the Championship last season. He topped that category for Leeds and attempted the most as well – 5.5 per 90 minutes.
Once in dangerous areas, Clarke has used the ball well, too. He attempted the third-most crosses from open play per 90 minutes and he stacks up well for chances created and assists. All in all, attractive attributes for an up and coming winger.
Jack Clarke 2018/19 Championship rankings (vs players with min. 500mins) Stat Total Leeds ranking Chances created per 90 1.89 4th Assists per 90 0.22 6th Dribbles attempted per 90 5.5 1st Dribbles completed per 90 3 1st Open play crosses per 90 3.11 3rd
Clarke will have plenty of work to do to make it at Tottenham, turning raw potential into consistent end product. But if he has the same impact as the last 18-year-old winger Spurs bought from Leeds then he’ll be fine. Aaron Lennon made the journey back in 2005 after less than 50 first-team appearances.
A year later, he was on a plane heading to Germany for the World Cup. Clarke certainly has the talent to make the same impression.
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