What will Aston Villa's Ciaran Clark bring to Newcastle United?
Newcastle are having a very good transfer window for a Championship club, as Rafa Benitez attempts to build a squad good enough to return to the top flight at the first attempt. The latest player to join is Ciaran Clark, an underwhelming albeit necessary bit of business by the North East club.
The Republic of Ireland international joins after Newcastle activated his release clause, which stood at £5 million. Although Clark is not a name that will set pulses racing on Tyneside, it is another statement of intent from the club, as they have taken a player from a league rival in Aston Villa. Roberto di Matteo had spoken publically about the defender and stated that he was confident Clark would remain at the club this summer. However, Newcastle acted decisively and strengthened their squad, while weakening a rival in the process.
Clark is a good squad addition as he can play a number of positions, including centre-back, left-back and defensive midfield. In the Championship, it is important to have versatile players in the squad to help deal with injuries, which are inevitable across a 46-game season. In addition to his versatility, Clark provides Premier League experience in abundance and has more than enough quality to do well in the Championship.
Benitez recognised the weakness in his back four, especially in the centre-back area. Jamaal Lascelles and Chancel Mbemba are expected to be his favoured pairing, but there is a lack of cover apart from Grant Hanley. It is expected that Mbemba will miss at least a month of the season due to the African Cup of Nations and the Spanish manager wanted to have cover in place for that.
Newcastle have lost Fabricio Coloccini and Steven Taylor in the centre-half positions, which made it a priority to strengthen that area. They have now done that with Hanley and Clark, both of whom have the quality to slot in and do well when required.
Although Clark is being initially signed to cover the defence and be more of a squad player, there is no reason why he cannot gain a first team spot as the season progresses. He has shown his ability in spells at Aston Villa and under Rafa Benitez, his game is only going to improve. The Irishman will get opportunities throughout the season, as the number of games Newcastle will play requires rotation.
Despite being a part of Villa’s horrible 2015/16 campaign, Clark has done well for the majority of his time at the club. He is a hard worker on the pitch and isn’t afraid to put his foot in. Moreover, he can be effective from set pieces at both ends, an area which Newcastle need to improve on.
There are issues to Clark’s game and that is why he isn’t being signed to come in as a starter from day one. He can be ill-disciplined, as demonstrated by his card count in recent seasons. Meanwhile, he needs to reduce the amount of errors he makes before he can be considered ahead of Lascelles and Mbemba, although neither of that pair are faultless when it comes to defensive mishaps.
This signing shows the methodical thinking going into Newcastle’s transfer business this summer for the first time since Mike Ashley bought the club. Benitez is at the centre of that, as he is attempting to build a squad with both quality and depth. He could easily field two sides, both of which would challenge for the promotion places.
Newcastle are favourites to win the Championship for a reason. They have a strong squad, which is still good enough for the Premier League and they finally have a manager they can believe in. There have been many false dawns on Tyneside, but this feels different.
The signing of Ciaran Clark may not be what the fans want, but it is what the club require and they finally have somebody in charge of recruitment who understands how to build a squad.
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