If Sheffield United need any help persuading Ethan Ebanks-Landell to stay at Bramall Lane, they should enlist Leon Clarke’s support.
“Me and Ethan are really good mates,” the centre-foward says. “We played together at Wolves, we have the same circle of friends and we went on holiday for quite a long period of time this summer. He’s done magnificent, been a rock at the back and shown what a good player he is since coming here.”
Clarke’s relationship with Ebanks-Landell, whose loan from the Championship club will be reviewed next month, could tip the balance in United’s favour if officials at Molineux allow the defender to decide where his future lies. But, before he starts trying to influence the negotiation process, Clarke has more pressing matters to attend to. Starting with plotting the downfall of Bury, his former club, at Bramall Lane tonight.
“It would be nice to get selected against them,” Clarke continues, “Because I had a lot of good friends there. Playing against anybody is good though. Just playing is the important thing. I have to be selfish at the moment because I’ve been out for quite a long time with injury. Fortunately, everything seems good now so I’m looking to kick-on.”
Clarke, who returned to action earlier this month, found himself hampered by mysterious fitness issue soon after completing his transfer to Chris Wilder’s side. Having volunteered for selection at the beginning of the campaign - something which impressed United’s coaching staff no end - they withdrew the 31-year-old from the firing line when it became clear he was a shadow of the player who scored 18 times in only 37 appearances for the visitors last term. With scans later revealing a chipped ankle bone was the cause of Clarke’s discomfort - “I don’t know when I did it. There was just a gradual pain that came on” - undergoing the correct course of treatment means the barnstorming striker United thought they had signed is now back.
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“It doesn’t really feel like a fresh start,” Clarke, who has hit the target twice in his last two appearances, admits. “I’ve just tried to make an impact. I didn’t really put a marker on when I would be ready. I left it to the medical staff. I didn’t put a date on it because I knew, if there was a set-back, then I’d be out for even longer and I didn’t want that.”
Clarke is often portrayed as a sullen, standoffish character. A nomadic career, which has seen him represent 16 clubs since progressing through Molineux’s youth system, has done little to change that perception. But half-an-hour in Clarke’s company, discussing subjects including Ebanks-Landell’s recent goal-fest and why he is wearing Billy Sharp’s beanie cap - “I’ve plundered his locker” - confirms it is incorrect.
“I’ve heard Ethan saying he was able to get plenty of sleep coming in for training when I was recovering,” Clarke smiles. “Well, I’ve been getting lots myself because he’s been telling me about the goals he was getting when I was out. But, to be honest, when it’s coming from a centre-half it goes in one ear and out the other. He’s been going on and on about it.”
Wilder is expected to call upon both Clarke and Ebanks-Landell, himself a former Bury player, when his team looks to close the gap on leaders Scunthorpe tonight. United, unbeaten in 13 League One outings, climbed to second in the table following last weekend’s win over Shrewsbury Town but could be without Paul Coutts (shin), Mark Duffy (calf) and Kieron Freeman (back) against opponents who have not tasted victory for eight weeks.
“Ethan’s got attributes that he picked-up from other defenders at Wolves,” Clarke says. “If you are a striker and you try to get a shot off, he gets really tight and blocks them. But I like to remind him about when he was on loan at Bury and I was at Scunthorpe. I think that was the toughest game he’s ever had.”
Wilder admitted United were missing a “big, big player” during Clarke’s spell on the sidelines.
“It’s nice of the manager to talk about me like that,” he says. “But, with the lads we’ve got up front, I’ve got to be at my best.”