Sheffield United: '˜Leon Clarke will get even better, like Brighton striker'
'The only source of knowledge,' Albert Einstein once wrote, 'Is experience.'
It is a theory which explains why Leon Clarke is getting better with age and, as his Sheffield United side prepare to visit Ipswich Town, Chris Wilder felt compelled to compare him with another famous tricenarian.
“I look at Leon and see no reason why he can’t achieve what Glenn Murray is doing,” the manager said. “That’s playing the best football of his career after his 30th birthday. If you ask Leon, he’d probably tell you he’s better than he’s every been and he’s got the attributes required to reach the top as well.”
Murray, who at 34 is two years Clarke’s senior, emerged as the driving force behind Brighton and Hove Albion’s climb to the Premier League last season. Wilder, having recently handed the centre-forward a new contract, is convinced United’s centre-forward can exert the same sort of influence after scoring 15 goals in his last 23 games.
“People improve at all different stages,” Wilder continued. “Nobody is ever the same. Take Glenn for example. He’s had a few clubs and he’d probably got to a point where people thought he was on a downward curve but it’s turned-out to be the exact opposite. I look at Leon and I see something similar happening. He’s doing brilliantly at the moment but, do you know what, I think there’s even more to come.”
Eyebrows were raised in some quarters when United, who are set to make changes for tomorrow’s FA Cup tie, recently announced Clarke had been awarded a new contract. Although there was little argument about the fact he warranted a pay rise, the length of the deal, which runs to 2020, was questioned given the player will be 35 when it expires. But Wilder, who yesterday confirmed Mark Duffy is in talks about extending his stay, believes modern training methods can help players with the right kind of character to prolong their careers in the game.
“There’s no doubt these lads are going on for much longer now,” he continued. “Again, take Leon for example, he’s looking fitter than he’s ever been and that’s showing in his performances. It’s not just the goals he scores, it’s the work he does off the ball as well and the goals he’s getting are the reward for that.
“He’s also someone who brings a lot off the pitch, behind the scenes, too. That’s why, together with a few other lads, I see him as really important for us moving forward.”
Clarke’s know-how will prove doubly important if Wilder makes good on his promise to include youngsters Regan Slater and Rhys Norrington-Davies in his squad at Portman Road. The Steelphalt Academy graduates are set to travel with the likes of Jake Wright, Caolan Lavery and Daniel Lafferty as United, who enter this season’s competition at the third round stage, keep one eye on next Friday’s Steel City derby against Sheffield Wednesday.
Ben Whiteman, who has been recalled from his loan spell at Doncaster Rovers, is ineligible for selection.
“Leon’s been in the business a long time,” Wilder said. “Like Glenn, he’s had some difficult times as everyone does if they stick around long enough but you can tell they’ve both learned from them. We want to get to the highest level and we think Leon is someone who can help us get there and still perform.”