Jack Clarke arrived back at Leeds United out of shape and unfocused after sealing a blockbuster transfer to Tottenham, Football Insider can reveal for the first time.
It was agreed in July 2019 that the winger, still then 18, would immediately return to Elland Road on a season-long loan deal after joining Spurs for an initial £9.5million rising to a potential £13.5m with add-ons.
It appeared to be a deal that worked for both clubs. Leeds were getting another year of a super-quick, gifted winger who had showed rich promise at first-team level after graduating from their youth ranks.
Tottenham, recognising that the teenager was not yet ready for Premier League football, were getting key development for their asset under the shrewd guidance of Marcelo Bielsa, a master of polishing rough diamonds.
However, Clarke made just one Championship appearance for Leeds that season, despite establishing himself as a valued member of the team in the previous campaign.
A source at the Yorkshire club has now told Football Insider that the England Under-20 international returned for pre-season that summer “out of shape” and “withdrawn”.
The hunger that had accompanied his dazzling entry to the professional game less than a year earlier was absent.
Bielsa demands the very highest standards of fitness and commitment. Players who do not reach them are soon found surplus to requirements.
Clarke’s loan spell at his boyhood club was cut short in December 2019 and he subsequently moved closer to his parent club, to west London-based Championship outfit QPR, for the remainder of the 2019-20 campaign.
He made just seven appearances for Mark Warburton’s side – all of them as a substitute – before returning to Spurs in August.
Tottenham blocked a third consecutive loan move for the youngster during the window that shut in the middle of October.
They wanted their rising star closer to home this time.
The new campaign has started rather differently for Clarke.
Following an encouraging pre-season with Tottenham, the teenager was handed his debut by Jose Mourinho in last week’s 3-0 Europa League win over LASK.
— Jack Clarke (@JackClarke09) October 22, 2020
Speaking after the win, Clarke said: “It’s a moment that I’ve been waiting for, something that I’ve been working towards and I’m just happy that the manager showed faith in me and put me out on the pitch.”
His performances in training and for the under-23s have not gone unnoticed by Mourinho and his staff, who according to sources, rate the teenager “highly” and plan to use him regularly in Europa League and cup football for the first team this season.
In other Tottenham news, Darren Bent is excited by major contract development.