When Ciaran Clark finally took to the field against Blackburn Rovers earlier in September, following a horrible run of injuries, it was no surprise that Newcastle boss Steve Bruce was quick to tip his hat to the defender.
Speaking after the Magpies’ Carabao Cup victory, he said: “Ciaran Clark was the big one for me – I thought he was immaculate considering he hadn’t played since around last Christmas time.”
Since the full game that he played against Rovers, the Republic of Ireland international has featured in just one other match, getting 45 minutes under his belt in the next round of the League Cup, in the game against Morecambe.
Getting onto the pitch for some Premier League action has been a completely different story for the 31-year-old, making the bench once (against Brighton), and not even being named in the match-day squad for the other three.
Bruce understandably will be trying to ease Clark back into first-team action, but with the defender’s contract coming to an end next summer, the Magpies are facing an incredibly tough decision.
The 31-year-old has been a fairly reliable performer for the club, playing 91 times and even chipping in with an impressive ten goals. Former Sunderland striker Darren Bent, who played with Clark whilst the pair were at Aston Villa, made his feelings clear about just how good the veteran is.
When asked whether the Ireland ace is under-rated, Bent replied: “Yeah, I played with Ciaran at Villa for a few years. The same Ciaran you’re seeing there is the same one we used to see in matches and training, where you’d hit shots and he’d block absolutely everything.
“He’s actually a defender who likes to defend which is a funny thing to say as some defenders are good footballers yet they don’t want to put their body on the line, but he will. They’re passionate fans up there and they won’t expect anything less than 100% and Ciaran knows that, he will fight tooth and nail for that football club and as I said, he’ll take shots to the face, put his body in the way, he’ll just do anything to stop the ball going in the net.”
But at his age, and with a long-term ankle injury on his record too, the time may be right for both sides to part ways in 2021. The signings of Callum Wilson, Ryan Fraser and Jamal Lewis show that Newcastle have got designs on grander things instead of just fighting to avoid relegation.
Letting the £35k-a-week earning Clark go, and bringing in a star to potentially partner Jamaal Lascelles in the heart of defence, could be the key to Newcastle taking that crucial next step.