The objectives of Paul Lambert in the close season were very obvious for all to see – and executed swiftly and professionally. As well as signing new young talent such as Nicklas Helenius and Jores Okore, Lambert was also keen to get those who performed consistently well last season tied down to improved deals as a reward.
With key players such as Christian Benteke, Ashley Westwood, Matthew Lowton, Brad Guzan and Andi Weimann adding to hot prospects Samir Carruthers, Ciaran Clark and Nathan Baker in confirming their commitment to Villa, it has been a pretty successful few months without even kicking a ball.
Ciaran Clark is the only one in there who’s led to questions being raised about whether he deserves a new deal though, and I think them harsh.
The 23-year-old defender’s previous contract had just 12 months remaining and running the risk of losing him on a free transfer would quite honestly have been pretty stupid. The Irishman broke onto the first team scene in 2009 and has failed to cement a place as a key player since doing so, but having had four different permanent managers in this time will certainly not have helped his cause.
An academy graduate, Clark captained the reserves side to the title before making his first-team debut and has gone on to make some just as crucial contributions to the senior squad: instances such as a late headed goal in the 3-3 draw at Stamford Bridge in 2011 and the goal against Newcastle in the 1-1 draw early last season to earn Villa’s first point of the campaign. He has also scored some impressive goals such as the 20-yard volley in a brace against Arsenal in 2010.
Being able to play adequately as a left back, centre back or a defensive midfielder, Clark is certainly versatile enough to make a positive impact even in this new squad. Having captained Villa’s senior side in the 4-1 away Carling Cup quarter final victory over Norwich City, it’s fairly obvious that Lambert rates his leadership abilities as well as his contribution to the team.
He is renowned as being a ball-playing-defender and while this has its positives such as being able to pick a pass that your James Collins’ of the world can’t, he can also get caught dwelling on the ball while trying to be too creative and gifting possession to the opposition in dangerous areas. He has also been regarded as a little lightweight at times and, while I like Clark, it’s hard to disagree. He needs to work on these tendencies but also needs to be given time to do so through first team experience.
Seeing so many academy graduates such as Clark, Albrighton, Weimann, Baker and Gardner in and around the senior squad is an essential bargaining tool in convincing the current crop of NextGen champions that not only can they make an impact on this team but that they will improve as players while doing so. We are a club that values developing our own players, and Clark is certainly one of them.
Still, he is not a promising youngster any more and Clark should be looking to make a bigger impact on the upcoming season than he did in Lambert’s maiden campaign as manager.