Sheffield United: Blades teammate reveals the secrets behind top-scorer Leon Clarke's team of the year inclusion
He isn't one for Churchillian speeches or chest-beating shows of raw emotion, but Leon Clarke's inclusion in the PFA Championship team of the year is a triumph of his status at Sheffield United, his work-rate on the field - and his goals.
But, according to teammate Richard Stearman, Clarke’s honour is also a triumph of management from Bramall Lane boss Chris Wilder.
“I think you’d have to ask Leon what the main differences have been,” smiles Stearman of his 18-goal teammate, who he also played alongside at Wolverhampton Wanderers, “but he’s been phenomenal this season and, before I joined, he did well last season too.
“When I played with him before, he showed glimpses of what he’s been doing this season but he’ll probably admit himself that he didn’t do it on a regular enough basis.
“He’s 33 now and he’s a very hard-working player, so it’s an incredible achievement and I think the love he gets, from the staff, players and the fans, helps massively.
“He has a vitally important role around the club and the gaffer just lets Leon do what Leon does, and I think he responds better to that.
“It’s another thing the gaffer must be congratulated for, that man management and the ability to work with players in different ways.
“Leon isn’t an average player, people need different things to be successful and he’s recognised that, and you can see the benefits on the field.
“Leon’s in the best form of his life, probably having the best season of his life, and hopefully it can continue for the rest of the season and then for several more.”
Clarke, who is expected to make his 38th appearance of the season this weekend when United travel to Birmingham City, sits one goal behind Derby’s £8m Czech Republic international Matěj Vydra in the leading scorer charts - less than two years after arriving at Bramall Lane in a £150,000 deal from Bury.
He ended an injury-disrupted debut season in fine goalscoring form, netting six times in United’s final six games as they gained promotion and then won the league title with 100 points, and then made Bramall Lane history by scoring all four goals in a 4-1 victory over Hull City - ending up with nine in the month of November.
The sheer numbers will have thrust Clarke into contention for the team of the year accolade, voted by his fellow professionals, but they only tell part of the story of his game; at 33 years old, Clarke very much leads from the front in United’s high-pressing game and has been promoted to vice-captain, in the absence of long-term injury casualty Paul Coutts.
“I think he’s thrived on that, as well as the love he gets from everyone around the club,” defender Stearman added.
“The boys all love him and respect him the fans love what he does and it’s culminated in a fantastic season for Leon.
“He’s not one for big speeches, at all, but different captains do the job in different ways; some are very vocal and some inspire through their performance, and Leon’s work rate and aggression on the pitch is an inspiration to the other lads.
“He does speak very well, don’t get me wrong, but that’s not his main attribute as a skipper. He leads more through performances than words.”
Meanwhile, EFL boss Shaun Harvey says he will “robustly” ask the government to allow safe standing in football grounds after acknowledging there was “significant popular demand” for standing to be allowed.
Following sports minister Tracey Crouch’s decision last week to block West Brom’s application to trial a safe-standing section, Harvey wrote to EFL clubs on Monday to explain how hard he was lobbying government to drop the all-seater rule for stadiums in England’s top two divisions.
“We don’t believe that [Crouch’s] response is satisfactory and fails to address the matters we raised,” Harvey said.