Sheffield United: Newcastle defender reveals why he chose Bramall Lane

The brutality, the sheer intensity, is seared into Ciaran Clark’s memory.
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“It was a bloody long night,” the centre-half admits. But even though the final scoreline continues to escape him, as he explains how he came to arrive at Sheffield United, it becomes apparent the atmosphere Clark experienced during Newcastle’s last visit to Bramall Lane helped sway the race for his services in the South Yorkshire club’s favour.

“To be honest, I can’t remember how it ended up,” he says, confessing that facing Chris Wilder’s side had proved such a mentally draining experience the only thing he really remembers is Ryan Fraser’s sending-off. “I know he went. I can picture him getting a red card. The thing is, these boys were so difficult to come up against, because they put so much in, everything else is just a blur really. That’s testament, for me, to how difficult they are to face. It’s also something I respect, genuinely.”

Ciaran Clark signs for Sheffield United on loan from Newcastle: Simon Bellis/SportimageCiaran Clark signs for Sheffield United on loan from Newcastle: Simon Bellis/Sportimage
Ciaran Clark signs for Sheffield United on loan from Newcastle: Simon Bellis/Sportimage

The difference

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Much has changed since Billy Sharp’s second-half penalty, his 100th league goal for United, condemned Newcastle to a 1-0 defeat 18 months ago. Neither Wilder nor Steve Bruce remain at the helm. United are no longer competing at the highest level, having been relegated to the Championship later that term.

Clark’s situation has changed too, having joined United on a season long loan earlier this summer after being declared surplus to requirements by Bruce’s successor Eddie Howe. But rather than feeling aggrieved at missing out on becoming a part of one of English football’s most exciting new projects, as Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund bankrolls a revolution at St James’ Park, the Republic of Ireland international is excited by the prospect of representing another team he feels reflects his principles and personality.

Sheffield United manager Paul Heckingbottom: Andrew Yates / SportimageSheffield United manager Paul Heckingbottom: Andrew Yates / Sportimage
Sheffield United manager Paul Heckingbottom: Andrew Yates / Sportimage

“I spoke a lot to the manager over the summer,” Clark continues, revealing details of his conversations with Paul Heckingbottom. “Just like I did at Newcastle, I want to invest not only in the group but also the whole area as well. He (Heckingbottom) made it clear this whole place is 100 percent. That’s what he wants every day in training and he told me that’s what people in the city are like as well, that’s what they want to see. That’s the kind of approach I really like as well. So, genuinely, I’m really excited to be here.”

The new faces

Clark became the third new face to arrive at United since May’s defeat in the Championship play-off semi-finals after Heckingbottom, who was appointed in November, unveiled Anel Ahmedhodzic and fellow loanee Tommy Doyle. Aged 32 and having made nearly 250 Premier League appearances, Clark’s experience meant he had no shortage of offers when Howe, who had cut him from Newcastle’s squad in January, confirmed he could leave.

Eddie Howe, the Newcastle manager: Marc Atkins/Getty ImagesEddie Howe, the Newcastle manager: Marc Atkins/Getty Images
Eddie Howe, the Newcastle manager: Marc Atkins/Getty Images
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So why United? And did the prospect of working alongside compatriots John Egan and Enda Stevens convince Clark to accept United’s offer?

“Obviously I spoke to them about it. But to be honest, even though we were chatting away, my mind was already made up by that point.

“They’ve introduced me to the coffee school, mind. That’s helped me settle in. Everyone has made that really easy to be fair. It’s been pretty hectic at the moment but, when things settle down a bit, I know the boys will show me where to go when I get out and about more.”

The experience

Newcastle United's Ciaran ClarkNewcastle United's Ciaran Clark
Newcastle United's Ciaran Clark

Perhaps crucially, as United prepare for next week’s visit to Watford, Clark also has experience of gaining promotion from the second tier. After joining Newcastle from Aston Villa in 2016, he helped them make an immediate return to the PL during his first season in the North-East.

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“That year, with Newcastle, it was similar to here. There was a lot of ability and a lot of competition. Togetherness, you need that, and it’s already here. That’s a huge part. So is attitude. Everyone knows the quality in the squad. But the attitude is key.”

The same, Clark concedes, as something United are due a huge slice of after May’s defeat to Nottingham Forest on penalties.

“Luck, that’s really important as well. And I think the lads were so unlucky last season, coming so close. There were times at Newcastle when we got a lucky goal to get back into a match and then went from there to win or draw. So no matter what, you have to persevere.

“The good thing about the Championship is, even though it’s such a slog, it also means if something doesn’t go your way then you can get out there pretty much straight away and put it right.”

The contract

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With his contract set to expire next summer, what is expected to be Clark’s final appearance for Newcastle came six months ago during a 1-0 win over Leeds. Acknowledging United’s warm-up programme provided him with a chance to “dust off the cobwebs”, Clark is confident of making an immediate impact under Heckingbottom despite the fierce competition for places within his squad.

“To begin with, it was all about fitness and getting used to being back out there again. Then, as it goes on, things change. For me, I was always watching and learning about how the lads like to play and how they go about things so nothing was ever wasted.

“Competition wise, with five centre-halves going for what might be three places, personally I like that. You need competition to be successful. You need to know you’ve had to fight to get in the team in the first place and that, if you get too comfortable, that there’s someone there who is ready to take your shirt. For me, that drives performance.”

So, Clark explains, does the relationship between the team and the terraces he has already experienced at United.

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“You need that emotional side to it,” he says, confirming their objective is “promotion”. “When the fans get behind you, it spurs you on. And everytime I’ve ever played here, it’s always been rocking.”