THE rookie defender nobody wanted on loan has become Pompey’s outstanding player and prized asset.
A remarkable journey for Matt Clarke, which many hope will now not deviate from Fratton Park.
It was July 2015 when the 18-year-old Ipswich prospect arrived on trial with view to a six-month loan.
A prized opportunity for Clarke, who earlier that year generated no interest when the Championship club circulated his name for a potential loan.
Irrespective of four first-team appearances for the Tractor Boys, Paul Cook was also tentative, keen to see the youngster in action before reaching a decision.
Following one training session, Clarke lined-up alongside Paul Robinson in the centre of Pompey’s defence for a pre-season friendly against Coventry at Westleigh Park.
I wasn’t devastated or sitting there thinking “Nobody wants me”, I was just cracking onMatt Clarke
Clarke netted in his next outing – a 2-0 victory at Woking – and soon the loan was finalised.
To date, the Ipswich product has made 115 Blues appearances, scoring five times, with a sizeable value on his head.
The 21-year-old said: ‘At Ipswich I had been on the bench and played in the Capital One Cup, but wasn’t really ever going to play a number of games so in the January they asked whether anyone wanted to take me on loan.
‘No-one really did because everyone has their squads. There weren’t many people that fancied it.
‘I wasn’t devastated or sitting there thinking “nobody wants me”, I was just cracking on, you have to wait and be patient for your chance.
‘That’s the way it is when gambling on somebody with not much experience, I didn’t take it personally.
‘Obviously, clubs don’t want to say “I’ll take him, we’ll play him” if they don’t know what they are getting into, so in many respects I had to come here that summer and show my worth – and it worked out quite well.
‘That trial was just the way to get my foot in the door.
‘The first training session I didn’t know any of the lads and I’m quite quiet in myself sometimes, so wasn’t making much noise.
‘For the first week I was in the Royal Beach Hotel, before moving into digs. I was 18 and had never lived away, I wasn’t really capable, it’s a life-changing experience learning to fend for yourself.
‘Around that period the club was in transition. I wasn’t the only player at the Royal Beach, seven or eight others had been there at one stage.
‘And it has worked out well.’
It certainly has, with Clarke on Saturday crowned The News/Sports Mail’s Player of the Season as his impressive progress continues.
The defender added: ‘I had only ever been at Ipswich, I didn’t really understand much about the Football League, I hadn’t been to any other training ground.
‘I was a little bit “am I going to be up to it?”, but obviously you back yourself and try to be yourself as a player.
‘I trained once and played the day after against Coventry. At the back of your mind you’re thinking “don’t mess up here”. If you have a bit of a stinker or whatever it’s back home you go.
‘Luckily, Paul Cook liked what he saw.’