Mike Ashley must answer Steve Bruce’s plea and secure Ciaran Clark’s long-term future with a new contract for the Newcastle United defender.
According to The Telegraph, Clark is close to reaching an agreement with the Magpies to extend his stay at St. James’ Park for at least a sixth-season following his arrival under Rafa Benitez ahead of the 2016/17 Championship campaign.
The defender’s current £35,000-per-week terms were due to expire in the summer and had begun to attract interest from Crystal Palace, who are in the market for centre-back cover with Mamadou Sakho likely to leave Selhurst Park.
Clark has been a fixture of Bruce’s plans in the Premier League since regaining his spot in the side in late November, starting and playing the full 90 minutes in each of Newcastle’s last nine fixtures, plus all 120 minutes of this month’s FA Cup defeat at Arsenal and 225 minutes in the Carabao Cup on route to the quarter-final.
Bruce had made retaining the Republic of Ireland international’s services a top-priority ahead of the January transfer window, insisting the “fiercely competitive” 31-year-old is far from an unsung hero on Tyneside.
“He’s not an unsung hero to me, Ciaran is a really good player who gives you a nice balance with his left foot,” Bruce said, via quotes by Chronicle Live.
“He is a very good player, and I know discussions are ongoing with his agent and I hope, in January, we can tie him up.
“We’d like to keep him at the club. I think he deserves that, and he has played very well for me.”
Ashley must answer Bruce’s call to tie Clark down to a new contract, and reports of a new deal being close is a good sign to Newcastle rewarding one of their most reliable defensive options at a time they risked losing the Aston Villa product for free.
Clark has frequently brought a calm head to a sometimes chaotic Newcastle backline since his recall this season, even when others have been blamed for letting the £4.5m-rated titan down, and regularly tries to keep morale high, even if United have been humbled.
The Harrow-born centre-half is a vastly consistent performer, too, with his WhoScored match ratings in the Premier League this term never dipping below 6.0 and often scoring highly to warrant an average 6.88.
Only Joelinton (9.4) scored higher for the Magpies during their 2-0 win over Crystal Palace in November, too, as Clark stood out at the back for a 7.6 rating thanks to a team-high seven successful aerial duels and 50 passes, plus a game-high six clearances.
Clark’s performances this term have been at such a level that he ranks 10th among all Premier League defenders for average aerial duels won a game with 4.11 and 15th for clearances with 4.78, while offering 1.0 successful tackles, 1.67 clearances, 1.89 ground duels won and 35.11 passes per game, per SofaScore.
His numbers see Clark shadow only Fabian Schar (1.73) for interceptions a game among Bruce’s defenders, as they continually break up opposition play in hopes of protecting Karl Darlow’s box.
Clark also sees more of the ball than his backline colleagues as he serves as the first man tasked with bringing play out at St. James’ Park.
Newcastle, and Bruce in particular, would likely seriously miss Clark’s presence next term if he were to depart in the summer as a free agent, making the Magpies’ decision to table a new deal this month a very wise move.