It has been coming; one of Newcastle’s players of the year for 2016/17 has left to return to the Championship after joining as we fell into the same division. Ciaran Clark departs after six years at Newcastle United and serving under three different permanent managers. He arrived as hope was aiming to be restored under Rafa Benitez but departs as the club aims to break consistently into the top half of the Premier League table. A capable defender who genuinely seemed to care for the club and the city, a Villain that we actually liked, Ciaran Clark has come through a lot as a Newcastle player.

Jeff Hendrick departed to Reading yesterday on a season long loan and it would be fair to say that he will largely be forgotten for his time on Tyneside. Clark, however, was a sensible acquisition to strengthen the back line of the defence first in the Championship and then later trusted by Benitez to play a part whenever required. Making his league debut in a 4-1 win over Reading to kick start the Championship season, after two defeats to Fulham and Huddersfield, Clark played pretty much consistently throughout the rest of the season, missing out on the promotion party against Bristol City.

On our return to the Premier League he partnered Florian Lejeune (until Harry Kane intervened) and then was partnered with Jamal Lascelles for pretty much the first half of that season. However, the Frenchman’s return to fitness saw Clark cast on to the bench for most of the rest of the 2017/18 season from early Feb onwards and there were some who wondered if the Irishman would be happy playing the part of additional substitute. The following season he was used even less in the league, making only eight league starts and eleven overall appearances, but scoring three goals. This had to do with the arrival of Fabian Schar, the team changing shape but also Benitez wanting two ball playing defenders next to Lascelles at times. Whilst Newcastle were under Benitez it looked like Clark would have to accept a bit part role.

The following season saw him used more regularly by Steve Bruce as the formations changed but Clark got a greater run in the side. Schar seemed to fall in and out of favour with the manager, Lejeune suffering two serious injuries which ultimately saw him leave the following summer and Bruce being unsure on who were the better defenders in his squad. Clark himself admitted in the autumn of 2019 whilst on international duty that he was considering whether to leave to secure his place in the Ireland squad, as the regular bench duty was not helping his international ambitions.

However, the 2020/21 season saw Clark play in twenty-two Premier League games and sign a new two and a half year deal at the club. This was to see him through to the summer of 2023, which is now when his Sheffield United contract will expire, most likely meaning that he will leave for nothing but the loan fee generated by this deal.

So how to remember Ciaran? There will be some who will be keen to rest on his error against Norwich City that saw him sent off after only nine minutes and left a winless United fighting for a point that night. But that seems unfair on a player who for the years previous had been a solid, unspectacular presence in the Newcastle squad. Despite his own murmurings over his concern for his international place, there were very few pre-takeover who were concerned that Clark was a negative presence and I for one think that is important.

It is too easy to take on recent bias when looking at some of these situations. Is Clark now that bit older, maybe a touch slower in his decision making or less able to complete tasks that previously he made look simple. Yes, and there is no doubt that the time factor has played a part in that and it cannot be overlooked. However, for the previous five years it could not be said that he had in anyway let the club down. He was completely focused on football, someone who responded well to Benitez’s more rigid tactical plans and then saw a renaissance under the following manager who saw that he could be an aerial threat offensively and a consistent defender.

I will remember him more for adding calm and balance to the team that was promoted and showed in the first half of that season the consistency to make good decisions in a side on a bad run. He was often one of our top scorers for a season which as a defender is no mean feat and showed that he was far from being a concern to his managers.

My memory will be watching him chase after Shelvey following the free kick that saw us beat Leeds at Elland Road, genuine delight on the players’ faces. That was his last game for the club.

I hope Sheffield United works out for him and that they battle again for promotion, I think he will be a solid player for him and for those who have also left from the 2016 collection, and those who may still leave in this window, that it is sensible to move on if it means more football. I imagine that Ciaran Clark would have liked to play more in the second half of the season, he did not and for that I think he has made the right decision for himself and the club.

Stephen Ord – @smord84