Tottenham’s decision to dip into last summer’s transfer market and pick up Leeds United’s Jack Clarke for £10m was perhaps overlooked at the time.
It didn’t help that the young Englishman was unveiled to fans the same day as club-record signing Tanguy Ndombele, but an immediate loan move back to Marcelo Bielsa’s Leeds side perhaps took away some of the excitement.
That loan move, however, certainly didn’t seem right. Clarke struggled to get game time, making two just appearances in the Championship in 2019/20, compared to the 22 he made in a Leeds shirt before his move to north London was finalised.
With a lack of action hindering the youngster’s development, the decision was taken to cancel his loan early and to find a new club for the second half of the campaign. Clarke was eventually out on loan again in January, this time to Queens Park Rangers.
It was another move that looked great for Clarke’s development on paper. He would be playing his football in London, which allowed Spurs to monitor his progress and more importantly, make sure he was getting sufficient minutes.
Clarke was also managed at QPR by Mark Warburton, who has close ties with Spurs having previously taken players from the north London side on loan at his previous clubs. This, therefore, would have been a manager the club trusted to give Clarke minutes on the pitch.
However, it was a similar story for the 19-year-old as he made only seven appearances in a QPR shirt during the disjointed second half of the campaign.
There is no denying that 2019/20 was a tough season for Clarke, struggling to get an opportunity to express himself in two separate loan spells. But what if that has made the youngster more determined to prove he deserves to be at Hotspur Way next season?
A change in management in November caused many fans to worry Clarke’s time at the club could come to an abrupt end, but Tottenham boss Jose Mourinho has previously spoken of his desire to give the winger a chance to prove himself.
Tottenham hosted Ipswich Town in a friendly fixture on Saturday 22 August, and Clarke was named among the substitutes with Mourinho opting to start with the first-team players that had already returned to pre-season training.
Clarke was one of the players Mourinho turned to at half-time, after Ryan Sessegnon and Heung-Min Son had Spurs 3-0 ahead after 45 minutes.
The youngster played on the right wing and, rather impressively, looked confident.
You’d think two difficult loan spells would have been on the player’s mind, but it appeared to make him more determined to prove a point.
Clarke enjoyed having Gedson Fernandes offering support from the advanced right-back position, with an overlapping run always an option on the right side of the box.
The 19-year-old didn’t shy away from getting his head down and backing his ability to take defenders on, and he almost capped his display off with an assist too.
Clarke’s low-driven cross from the right side of the pitch was so close to being met by the on-rushing 16-year-old academy scholar Dane Scarlett. The youngster was inches away from connecting with the cross after sliding in to try and make contact.
Despite an encouraging first performance in a Spurs shirt, there is still a long way to go for Clarke to prove himself to Mourinho. However, if he continues putting in performances and training hard during pre-season, he could be a very important player in 2020/21.
Tottenham begin the season at home to Everton in the Premier League on 12 September, but will then play a UEFA Europa League qualifying fixture the following Tuesday. Two days later, Spurs will then play a Carabao Cup match, before another Premier League game at the weekend.
This dense week of fixtures will then repeat itself, which gives Spurs a tough start to the new season. Mourinho will need to select his teams carefully, with other competitions in mind.
It doesn’t get any better at Christmas, either.
Although Spurs currently have good depth on their wings with Heung-Min Son, Lucas Moura, Steven Bergwijn and Erik Lamela all able to play in those positions, having Clarke in the squad allows these key first-team members to put their feet up during midweek fixtures.
Should the young winger continue to impress during pre-season with games against Reading, Birmingham City and Watford to come, he could be a valuable asset to help combat a busy schedule in a uniquely crammed season.