Loved at Portsmouth - but defender in limbo at Premier League Brighton ahead of reunion

If you're walking around Anchorage Park and spot a familiar Pompey face with his dog then you'd be forgiven for having to look twice.

Saturday, 22nd August 2020, 7:30 am

It's not a mirage in the distance caused by the lack of Blues signings during this summer's transfer window, ready to come and save the day.

It is, in fact, Matt Clarke on Portsea Island where he still lives.

Supporters have stopped for pictures, with the genial defender unsurprisingly more than happy to oblige like always.

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And today, the centre-back will be making the same journey up the A27 as his former Pompey team-mates – only he will be on the opposite side.

Clarke will be pulling on the blue and white stripes of Brighton to face the Blues at the Premier League side's Lancing training ground.

But the former Ipswich man will have more than catch-ups and friendly hellos on his mind.

His mind will firmly be on defeating Kenny Jackett's side and trying to impress his manager, Graham Potter.

Matt Clarke. Picture: Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

A year after leaving Fratton Park, Clarke is in somewhat of a state of limbo at the Amex Stadium heading into the 2020-21 season.

After joining the Seagulls for £4m from Pompey, the cultured defender was sent out on loan to Derby.

It was a prudent move from Potter, allowing Clarke a full campaign in the Championship – a level he had little experience at.

It was hardly a shock that the 24-year-old made a seamless transition to life in the second tier, either.

Everyone who watched him at PO4 knew he was far too good for League One and could cut it at the next level. You only had to look at his displays in FA Cup games with Norwich and QPR.

While Derby missed out on a play-off spot, Clarke enjoyed a superb season on a personal front.

He scored one goal in 37 games and his performances were recognised by claiming the Rams' Jack Stamps Player of the Season award.

Most players in Clarke's situation would be heading back to their parent club confident of cementing a place in their starting line-up for the upcoming season.

However, in the case of the Barham-born ace, he's still to know whether he'll be in Potter's Premier League plans.

Brighton are scarcely short of central defenders of top-flight quality.

There's then Lewis Dunk and Dan Burn who were also regulars last term.

The Seagulls also have another impressive loanee who’s back in West Sussex.

Ben White arguably had an even better campaign than Clarke.

The 22-year-old was a key player for Leeds as they marked their return to the Premier League after a 16-year absence.

Marco Bielsa's side want White back, while heavyweights Liverpool Manchester United and Tottenham are reportedly interested, but Brighton have said he's not for sale.

In addition, Potter has also recruited Holland international, Joel Veltman, from Ajax this summer. He has the sort of pedigree who you’d imagine will feature heavily.

So what could be next for Clarke?

Derby are keen to take him back for another season. He made a serious impression on his team-mates and manager Phillip Cocu, especially.

However, a report by The Athletic says Brighton may look to loan Clarke to another club to test him in a different environment.

First of all, Potter may want to see how Clarke shapes in pre-season. That begins when he faces his former side Pompey.