IN-FORM Matt Clarke is destined for a ‘very, very big future’.
That is the verdict of Joe Gallen, who is convinced the impressive defender can maintain his encouraging development.
I didn’t find out his age at the time, so when we turned up in the summer and they were saying he was 20-21 I was surprisedJoe Gallen
Clarke has made 90 appearances since arriving initially on loan from Ipswich in the summer of 2015.
In the process, he has established himself a cornerstone of the Pompey side rising from the bottom division to seventh in League One.
The 21-year-old’s outstanding displays are certain to have caught the eye of Championship clubs and higher.
Yet he is contracted at Pompey until the summer of 2019.
And Gallen has high hopes for the powerful centre-half.
The Blues’ assistant boss said: ‘Matt’s very good, pretty much a natural footballer, which is probably highly unusual for a centre-half.
‘What I mean by that is he could probably go into midfield – and I would have thought be reasonably comfortable.
‘First thing’s first, he’s a centre-half and when you are a centre-half you have to win headers, win headers in your box, win headers off goal kicks, win headers when the other team are putting crosses in.
‘You’ve got to stop your man from scoring and sense danger. He can do that.
‘The extra part is he is very comfortable on the ball and can run the ball out, pass the ball forward, he can go on a mazy dribble at times and take people by surprise.
‘That is not normal for a centre-half and he’s got a very, very big future ahead of him.
‘But if he doesn’t do the first part of what I said then the second part is irrelevant.
‘I came to four games last season, which was my first time seeing him, and I was pretty impressed.
‘I didn’t find out his age at the time, so when we turned up in the summer and they were saying he was 20-21 I was surprised!
‘He doesn’t look 21, but more importantly doesn’t play like he is 21. He plays like he’s been playing for 10 years.’
Clarke collected a groin injury early in the first pre-season of the Jackett regime.
He subsequently missed the opening six matches of the campaign before returning against Rotherham in September.
And he has been a league ever-present since.
Gallen added: ‘He’s a really lovely bloke and loves football.
‘Matt is the first out every day from when they start the gym in the morning – and he and Jamal (Lowe) are pretty much the last in.
‘We actually think he might overwork a little bit at times. He has a great enthusiasm for football, constantly practising his game, in the gym a lot. Maybe he needs to stop that a little bit and get some rest.
‘Matt has a great attitude, is very natural on the ball and has enough power in terms of his defensive responsibilities.
‘He has a big chance of doing something pretty good in the future.’