In defence of Newcastle United’s departing defender Ciaran Clark
Let’s get one thing clear, Ciaran Clark can leave Newcastle United with his head held high.
The defender’s joined Sheffield United on loan for the final year of his contract at St James’s Park.
Clark will take a lot of experience with him to Bramall Lane, and, after a frustrating six months without a Premier League squad number, he can restart his career.
"Ciaran brings with him a lot of experience,” said Blades manager Paul Heckingbottom. “He’s played in this division – and has won promotion. Ciaran’s well respected in the dressing rooms he has been in.
“He wanted to go out on loan, and, luckily for us, he chose us.”
"We'll put big demands on him with regards to the way we train, and what we want from him, but I'm sure he is looking forward to it.”
Clark has spent the past six years at St James’s Park – and he’s given very good service to the club.
And the 32-year-old shouldn’t be remembered on Tyneside for the error which led to his dismissal against Norwich City last season.
Instead, Clark should be remembered for the years of consistent service he gave the club following his move from Aston Villa in the summer of 2016.
At the time, some Villa fans mocked the £5million move on social media. However, then-manager Rafa Benitez had done his homework. Benitez had felt that Clark could help the club out of the Championship – and then go on to perform in the Premier League.
Clark did just that, and Villa fans weren’t laughing at the end of the 2016/17 campaign. Newcastle went up as champions – and Villa finished 13th. It would be some time before the two clubs met again.
The Republic of Ireland international was one of Benitez’s most consistent defenders during the club’s promotion-winning campaign. Clark made 34 league starts – and scored three goals – for Benitez’s well-organised side.
The left-footed centre-half, a close friend of defensive partner Jamaal Lascelles, gave the defence balance. He just got on with the job, and also made a contribution at the other end of the pitch. Off the field, Clark fitted in just as well.
Clark gave his best years to United, and didn’t deserve any of the vitriol that came his way following the Norwich dismissal.
The game was seen as a must-win fixture for Newcastle, as the relegation-threatened club was winless, and 20th in the Premier League, at the time. Ten-man United drew 1-1 with Norwich, who cancelled out Callum Wilson’s opener 11 minutes from time.
The issue was not Clark, but the club's recruitment under Ashley. United had needed to slowly refresh the defence put together by Benitez during Steve Bruce’s time as head coach. It didn’t, and Clark was handed a new two-year contract in January 2021.
A move last summer, when the club was still owned by Ashley, would have been better for Clark – and Newcastle.
Eddie Howe, Bruce’s successor as head coach, has since been able to recruit two left-sided centre-halves – Sven Botman and Dan Burn at a cost of around £50million – due to a change in ownership.
Those two players represent the present and the future for United, but Clark’s contribution to the club’s past shouldn’t be overlooked.