Quite simply put, no. Bury were not right to let Peter Clarke leave for Oldham Athletic yesterday. However, in order to reach a respectable word count I am going to have to expand upon this in order to put across an opinion as to why letting the defender leave may not actually be a bad thing. It is a bad thing, don’t get me wrong, I just have to produce around 600 words on the subject and I am not going to achieve that by simply stating the obvious.
Firstly, the defender was Bury’s player of the season by a landslide last campaign. A solid, uncompromising rock of a player, Clarke is essentially the archetypal lower league defender. If he had better technical ability and more pace then he wouldn’t have been playing for Bury, but he is very good at defending and that primarily being the main job of a centre-back, was why he was the Shakers key man during 2015/16.
The Southport-born defender moved to Gigg Lane last summer on a free transfer following a turbulent spell at crisis club Blackpool. At Bury he soon found a home, and made 48 appearances as his side finished 16th in League One (it would have been 14th if somebody had bothered to check whether Callum Styles had been registered to play in the league).
With Joe Riley and Chris Hussey already having left the club this summer, Clarke becomes the latest member of the Shakers rearguard to depart from Gigg Lane. Bury may have boasted one of the poorest defensive records in League One last season but many supporters believe that if it wasn’t for Clarke then things could have been far worse for David Flitcroft’s side.
Allowing him to leave to a rival, in both a local and a competitive sense, certainly hasn’t gone down well with supporters, who saw him as key to any hopes that their side had of a successful campaign. Clarke has signed a one-year-deal with the Latics and played in his new side’s 3-1 defeat to Preston North End last night.
Now for the argument as to why Flitcroft may have deemed it necessary to let his best player leave:
At 34, Clarke is no spring chicken and may not have too many years left in him. He is also likely to be one of the club’s biggest earners and with recent accounts showing that the club has been haemorrhaging money for the last two years it is no surprise that Flitcroft is attempting to trim down the wage budget.
It is still frustrating to see him go. In his short time at Bury he became extremely popular with supporters and for a while it looked as though the makings of a good partnership between him and Nathan Cameron were in place, before injury ended the latter’s season in late February. Clarke has made over 600 appearances for seven different clubs and possesses a wealth of experience at League One level. This, along with his sheer presence in defence will be missed dearly and it is important that Flitcroft replaces him effectively.
The man he has tasked with doing so is new signing Leon Barnett. Having spent most of his career in the second tier of English football, the 30-year-old certainly has the experience to match Clarke’s but it is difficult to imagine that he is on a significantly lower wage than his predecessor. Barnett once commanded a fee of £2.5 million when he left Luton Town for West Bromwich Albion in 2007, and has since had spells at Norwich City and Wigan Athletic. It is unlikely that he has come cheap, but he at least seems to have the pedigree to soften the blow of losing Clarke.
The departure of a key player with one year remaining on his contract has certainly left many Bury fans scratching their heads, and whilst it is necessary that the club off-loads some of its highest earners, the defender along with his namesake Leon Clarke, would have been the last players that supporters wanted to see leaving the club this summer. Only time will tell whether letting him go was a good idea, but this could be a decision that Flitcroft lives to regret over the coming months.
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