Ciaran Clark has proved to be an inspired buy by Rafa Benitez.
Activating a £5m release clause when both clubs were relegated, Villa’s loss was Newcastle’s gain.
The central defender was arguably Newcastle’s player of the year in the Championship and has contributed significantly this season just gone.
Rafa actually started the season with Florian Lejeune and Ciaran Clark as first choice after they impressed in pre-season, Jamaal Lascelles on the bench.
That all changed though within minutes, after Harry Kane’s shocking tackle put Lejeune out for a couple of months, Jamaal Lascelles straight back into the action.
The Newcastle Captain never looked back after that and ended up playing more minutes than any other Newcastle player in the Premier League last season.
Ciaran Clark and Florian Lejeune sharing the role alongside Lascelles.
Lejeune took full advantage of Clark picking up an injury and coming in for the home match v Man Utd, he and Jamaal Lascelles were outstanding in the final 12 games.
Ciaran Clark was on the bench for eight of those games but then missed the last few matches after having an injection to help sort a knee problem, otherwise it is very likely Rafa would have given the defender art least one or two games after safety was assured.
Last week saw Ciaran Clark pull out of summer friendlies with the Republic of Ireland and is only focused on getting himself right for next season with Newcastle.
Whilst Lejeune and Lascelles are clearly number one choices at the minute, Ciaran Clark must be kept at the club. Those final few matches of the season saw Rafa with no real options to bring into the team and Clark is one of the very few who could have been given a game and you wouldn’t have worried about it being a significant drop in quality.
That is the challenge for Rafa Benitez this summer, to both bring in a number of players who will definitely improve the first team and at the same time help give him a strong enough squad that can give positive options on the bench as well.
Ciaran Clark talking to the official club site:
“I had an injection a couple of weeks ago in my knee.
“Coming towards the end of the season, I had been trying to train and doing a little bit outside but it’d not been quite right.
“So we took the view that we would leave it for a couple of weeks and hopefully it’ll settle down.
“Hopefully by pre-season it will be back to normal and I will be ready to go again for next season.
“It was a great end to the season and everyone worked hard, I feel like we got what we’ve deserved.
“I was injured for the last few games but on the final day we could have finished between tenth and 15th, against Chelsea everyone would have backed us to drop a couple of places.
“But the lads put in a massive effort and, especially in the first half, that was probably the best performance I saw all season from us.
“We didn’t let them have a sniff, really.
“They had a couple of chances in the second half but the chances we created in the first half and the pressure we kept on them, they couldn’t get out of their half and they are a top side.
“We will take a lot of confidence from that, especially going forward into the new season.”