Portsmouth’s Matt Clarke: Tough footballing route made me player I am today
Matt Clarke elected to drop two divisions in the hunt for regular first-team football.
And, on the verge of his 150th Pompey appearance, it’s a route the central defender recommends to fellow youngsters craving opportunity.
Kenny Jackett’s men travel to Oxford United on Saturday, a fixture which will see the ever-flourishing Clarke reach a personal landmark.
He arrived on trial at Fratton Park in July 2015, following five outings for Championship Ipswich.
Representing the opportunity to earn a loan stay, new boss Paul Cook required time to assess the 18-year-old’s talents.
Today, Clarke had made 149 appearances, scored eight goals, collected the League Two title and is the reigning The News/Sports Mail’s Player of the Season.
And it’s a pathway the defender emphatically advocates.
He said: ‘This landmark is something I can take a little bit of pride in, some my age wouldn’t have played as many games – and that is probably the reason for my development going so well.
‘You need a bit of luck if you are in a team. When I was at Ipswich, there were no injuries, no suspensions, so was a little bit unlucky that I didn’t get a chance to play.
‘Whereas here I got an opportunity straight away, then it’s up to the player to take it.
‘I went into League Two to learn my trade and prove myself – and it’s a route I would definitely recommend.
‘Everyone’s career is different, the path I’ve taken has given me a lot of games in a variety of leagues, which is an advantage to me.
‘The most important thing when you are young is to play football.
‘It’s no good being in the Premier League sitting on the bench, you need to go and play, that is where you are going to learn your trade, learn lessons and learn how to play.
‘When you are at a Championship club you almost disrespect the lower leagues, you think “I could easily do a job in League Two”.
‘But it’s not until you go down and play at these places in front of proper fans on a Saturday afternoon that you realise it’s tough out there.
‘It definitely takes time to adjust and isn’t something everyone takes to straight away, but has been fantastic for me.’
Gareth Evans passed the 150-game barrier in November, while Christian Burgess is presently on 142.
All arrived in that summer of 2015 as Cook initiated an overhaul which would put the Blues on the road towards a potential return to the Championship.
Clarke added: ‘As a professional footballer, you don’t feel you are doing your job properly until you’re playing games.
‘You can train and travel to all these places and be on the bench, but until you actually play week in, week out, you don’t feel like you’re doing your job.
‘During my time here I have seen a lot of players come and go, so it’s nice to be here and have a sustained period, which is important for your development.’