The Michael Wood Column

Tuesday 04 September, 2001

Matt Clarke fades away

The Matt Clarke story, or at least this chapter of it, is a tale of a man who could have had it all but threw it away.

Matt Clarke left Bradford City today after a lengthy spell in the reserves and a time being farmed out on loan to Bolton. Clarke's departure has long been long anticipated, anticipation going back before he fell out with the club over being dropped at Newcastle, and now it arrives the feeling on the whole is that the best thing is to get player an d club as far away from each other as possible.

How different it could have been.

Matt Clarke wowed Valley Parade and beyond after getting a place in the City team following an injury to Gary Walsh. His athleticism was near peerless, certainly the equal of the likes of David James, Nigel Martyn and Ian Walker, his reactions sharp any. On his raw abilities he deserves a place in a Premiership team.

But Clarke has one flaw, a critical one that showed up when he blasted then new City boss Jim Jefferies for having the gall to drop Clarke, then in the mist of a series of errors that were costing the Bantams points, and replace him with the returning Gary Walsh.

Clarke attitude to Walsh was disrespectful in the extreme. Clarke was good, but Walsh has his own merits and for the former Sheffiled Wednesday keeper to act like the well respected Walsh should be happy to be his deputy was arrogant in the extreme. It also hinted at another problem with Clarke.

While no footballer is required to be a great orator Clarke has great problems communicating, especially with his back four. With Clarke behind in the backline was never as settled as it is with Gary Walsh and despite spending over a year in the City net, he made no real strides in building up an understanding with the defenders.

When Matt Clarke was clawing away balls he should never had got near in the Premiership escpae season an extrapolated curve would have had his career at St James' as part of the 11 English heroes that beat the Germans. Purely on skill he would be there, but the problem building an understanding with a defence, perhaps the most critical element of an international goalkeeper who only knows his defensive line for four days at a time, has put a block on that.

That weakness in Clarke's game could be worked on, but Clarke's flaw, perhaps the flaw that will prevent him from being a very good goalkeeper as opposed to a good one, is that he seems to be too arrogant to recognise that there is room for improvement.

So as Clarke keeps goal for Crystal Palace expect plaudits, expect people to rub there eyes in disbelief at how a man can move through the air so adroitly, but do not expect England to come knocking anytime soon, something that only a year ago looked very possible.

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