In a Sheffield United team that still contains a number of players from their League One days, few can claim to have contributed as much as forward, Leon Clarke.
The 35-year-old has had a varied career, to say the least. It’s a career that’s seen him take in 21 different spells at clubs (including loan periods). Goals haven’t always flowed in those periods either. Indeed, in the earlier days of his career, Clarke struggled for consistent form.
Only in a spell with city rivals, Sheffield Wednesday did Clarke hit a good spell. It wouldn’t be until the 2013 season that Clarke really began to fire. He formed a lethal partnership for Coventry City with Premier League-bound striker, Callum Wilson.
A spell back at first club Wolves before a goal-laden spell with Bury followed until in 2016, Clarke made the move to Bramall Lane as one of Chris Wilder’s first signings.
A vital role
Quite remarkably, Clarke didn’t exactly set Bramall Lane on fire when he arrived. In fact, it took until November for the striker to register his first league goal for the Blades as he notched in a 4-1 win at Chesterfield.
As the season went on, Clarke had to wait quite some time for his next Blades goal. It would be April before he scored again, this time in a crucial home win against Coventry City.
However, it was his next strike which will go down in the history books. Clarke got the equaliser at Northampton as the Blades sealed their place back in the Championship. Clarke then scored for more goals in the final five games to help seal the League One title and 100 points for the club.
It’s safe to say, then, that ‘Big Leon’ played quite an important role in the club’s rise.
Clarke’s real quality was on show in the Blades’ return to the Championship. The experienced forward eclipsed Billy Sharp on United’s return to the second tier, firing in 19 league goals along the way.
Among those was a four-goal haul against Hull City, an impressive double against Wolves, and a memorable brace in the 4-2 win at Sheffield Wednesday.
The following season, Clarke played a vital role but in a different way. After losing his place in the Blades line-up, Clarke completed a loan move to Wigan in January of 2019.
What would follow would impact his parent club as they would never have dreamt. Despite notching just three times for the Latics, Clarke played a vital role as they saw off the Blades’ promotion rivals, Leeds United, at Elland Road. Clarke led the line that day for Paul Cook’s men and laid on a goal in the process.
It was the perfect present from Clarke to Sheffield United and what many thought would be his last contribution to the club.
Premier League chance
Despite being available for transfer, Leon Clarke has remained with Sheffield United. It is, in fact, quite remarkable that no clubs made their move to land Clarke during the January transfer window.
A proven striker in the Championship and with bags of experience, he’d have been ideal for a number of clubs. But, he remains in Chris Wilder’s squad.
Clarke has only played once in the Premier League this term. He came on as a substitute against Liverpool and very nearly rescued something from the game for the Blades.
It was, in a strange way, nice to see Clarke get on the pitch that day. At 34, he had finally made his Premier League bow.
Chris Wilder has praised Clarke’s professionalism the whole time he has been with the squad. It is quite fitting, then, that someone who has been so important for the Blades in the last four seasons, will get to see out a memorable first campaign back at the top.