Defensive Frailties: Ciaran Clark dropped by Ireland & Jores Okore commits to Villa.

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Ciaran Clark dropped by Martin O’Neill’s Republic of Ireland

Our very own Ciaran Clark was unceremoniously dropped as Ireland progressed to the knock out stages of Euro 2016 in memorable fashion.  The late winner scored by Villa linked Robbie Brady against Italy, sets up a huge clash against hosts France.

This blog has written before about Clark being a frustrating footballer.  Whilst a committed and likeable Villa player, the Irishman has consistently had a mistake in him.  It has also been all the more frustrating given that he just doesn’t appear to learn from these recurring mistakes.

If Clark’s unfortunate and hapless own goal wasn’t enough in the earlier draw against Sweden, his very poor performance in the 3-0 defeat to Belgium soured matters.

So poor, that it generated a thread of concerned tweets as to what Roy Keane might in fact do to him.

In terms of his international career, recent days have inflicted great harm, with pre-match calls to play Richard Keogh & Shane Duffy now seemingly vindicated.

The more relevant part for Aston Villa is whether Clark can be rehabilitated into a solid, reliable defender.  The jury is certainly out. 

This is a massive season, transitional, where big calls need to be made.  With the signing of proven Championship centre half Tommy Elphick from Bournemouth and the announcement that Jores Okore is to remain, Clark’s position is at best shaky with other options including Lescott, Richards, Toner & Jose Angel Crespo within the squad.

He could even find himself behind Nathan Baker, should he come back into the fold after a positive loan spell with Bristol City.

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Clark now has seven seasons of senior football, all at Premier League level under his belt.  This has included him showing great initial promise, a woeful period under Paul Lambert and undeniably patchy form ever since.  

Ultimately, in our 2015/16 relegation season, he was largely shielded from criticism on account of his work rate and Joleon Lescott simply being around.

Which hardly says a great deal.

The worry is that at 26, the former England U-19 captain is supposed to be approaching his peak footballing abilities.  Yet despite this he continues to make rudimentary errors in both positional awareness and judgement.  It’s simply not good enough at club level, let alone the European Championships.

Clark is at the crossroads in his career as his performances fluctuate and Villa look to re-build a new, dependable defence.  Can Ciaran Clark really be a part of this future?

Jores Okore commits himself to the Villa

The news that a footballer commits himself to a club always amuses, particularly when they are under contract.  How very noble.

The 23 year old Dane has been a mixed bag since signing in June 2013.  Strong, powerful and deceptively pacey he certainly has the attributes to be a decent centre back.

But for all of those obvious physical attributes, there are concerns.  

Injuries have eaten into precious game time and consequently into his development.  An enforced 14 month layoff following a cruciate injury means that there are just 38 appearances to judge him upon.  Not many over 3 years.

The recent stats are at least moderately favourable.  

Even amidst Villa’s worst season in living memory and Okore’s frequent absence through injury or otherwise, he performed ok.  

“Ok” isn’t “Great”, but in the 12 matches he featured Villa secured 66% of their victories (2) & drew 5 times.  Or in other words, 11 of our 17 total points last season.

In fact, the only terrible blot within 5 defeats was the disastrous hammering at Villa Park to Liverpool.

The maths** suggest that had Okore been in the team over 38 games, Villa may have secured just shy of 35 points.  So…still relegated then…and clutching at imaginary straws really.

**[11 Points divided by 12 Games Played x 38 Games=34.83 Points]

Another area that shouldn’t be easily overlooked was a blatant lack of professionalism when refusing to be a substitute for our Premier League fixture against Bournemouth.  It was also reported that he also refused to play again for the remainder of the season. 

Whilst Okore dispute’s this, claiming he’d merely asked for more game time, he ultimately sat out the final weeks of the season & trained with the Under-21′s.  

It also didn’t stop him suggesting that a move away from Villa may suit him on the grounds he had “proven himself” and harboured Champions League ambitions.

The debacle also featured another annoying trait amongst Villa players; namely childishly airing grievances on social media.

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Whilst I’m sure that Eric Black could reasonably have driven anyone not to play football – it all makes for pretty petulant and stupid reading.  Black was an utterly useless individual, but Okore doesn’t come out of this smelling of roses either.  

Water definitely needs to go under the bridge, but there is room for marked improvement in both Okore’s overall game, his fitness and how he conducts himself in the face of something that doesn’t meet his satisfaction.

He hasn’t proven himself, certainly not at the top level and there’s plenty more to learn.  Does Okore improve Aston Villa when in the team?  I think so, but he must be fit, playing well and for the club as a whole, not himself.

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