Ciaran Clark has proved to be arguably the best signing Rafa Benitez has made at Newcastle United, so far.
Along with Dwight Gayle and Matt Ritchie they were the three star performers from the 12 players recruited in summer 2016, but at only £5m, in terms of value for money Ciaran Clark certainly comes out top.
The defender’s arrival initially puzzled Newcastle fans, as after Grant Hanley had come in, Clark’s arrival appeared to make him simply fourth choice with Mbemba and Lascelles in position, with Hanley as first reserve.
The opening stages appeared to back this up and it appeared this was Rafa’s thinking as well, only when Mbemba and Lascelles had a nightmare performance in a home loss against Wolves, did the manager feel he had to drop one of them.
It could have been the toss of a coin but it was the DR Congo international who was left out and Ciaran Clark quickly became a real fan favourite alongside Jamaal Lascelles.
However, Rafa Benitez has revealed that it wasn’t he who first spotted the potential of Ciaran Clark, instead the manager has revealed that Newcastle had been ‘following Ciaran Clark for years before we signing him’. Though of course the United boss will have had the final say on eventually bringing him to Newcastle after the release clause was activated in Clark’s contract.
The former Villa defender must be towards the top of most fans’ lists of the players who can confidently be predicted to be able to make the step up to Premier League level.
Of the players currently at the club, only Tim Krul, Jack Colback and Mohamed Diame have more Premier League starts than Ciaran Clark.
Rafa appears to indicate that Lascelles and Clark are likely to start as first choice when the season kicks off, saying Florian Lejeune will have to get used to the ‘tempo and intensity of the Premier League’, though he does believe that the Frenchman can compete to be first choice in the centre of defence.
The United boss was also quizzed about interest in James McCarthy, Newcastle regularly linked with the Everton midfielder.Whilst acknowledging McCarthy is a good player, Rafa says he isn’t a ‘first target at the moment’ and says he is just one of 100 players that Newcastle are linked with.
“We were following Ciaran Clark for years before we signed him because he’s an experienced Premier League centre-back.
“There are not many centre-backs who are left-footed, can pass the ball well, compete in the air and are tactically good.
“Florian Lejeune will have to understand what the tempo and intensity of Premier League means but he can compete with Jamaal Lascelles and Ciaran Clark.
“He (James McCarthy) is a good player but we now have a lot of them at this club.
“We have been linked with around 100 players but he is not our first target at the moment.”