31 Aug 2007
- Written by Paul Gilder (Sunderland Journal)
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THE misfortune Clive Clarke has encountered this week has touched all in English football, Sunderland’s on-loan Irishman having suffered double heart failure during the half-time break in Leicester’s Carling Cup second-round tie at Nottingham Forest.
A shocking episode that has affected different people in different ways. For supporters in the East Midlands, Clarke’s collapse ensured that fighting for local pride paled into insignificance, while for Roy Keane it put another pitiful performance into perspective.
For Kenwyne Jones, the defender’s plight demonstrated that in football, as in life, opportunities must be taken. As the 22-year-old admitted last night, Clarke’s horrendous health problems have suggested that he was correct to pursue a controversial career path.
“What happened to Clive made me sit up and think,” said the Black Cats’ latest signing, who told Southampton officials that he did not want to be considered for last week’s Championship fixture against Stoke having been told he would not be allowed to leave the South Coast club.
“As a sportsman, a footballer, you assume that you will be healthy for a long time. But then things like this happen and it makes you think. It made me realise that I’ve got to take every chance I get. It’s everybody’s dream to play in the Premier League and when you see players having to retire and players dying (Sevilla’s Antonio Puerta this week met such an end after suffering a cardiac arrest during a game against Gefate), you realise that you have to take your opportunities when they come. The time came for me and I had to take the chance.”
Keane – who learned about Clarke’s troubles during this week’s Carling Cup defeat at Luton – could not disguise his distress when informed. The Black Cats boss was last night attempting to speak to the recovering defender, while chairman Niall Quinn is planning to visit him in hospital this morning.
Although their Sunderland careers have not overlapped, Jones has given Clarke’s condition much thought in recent days and, like all in the footballing world, what has happened to Puerta has prompted profound thought.
Seven days ago, a player who had handed in a transfer request at St Mary’s was making unfortunate headlines having effectively gone on strike. One week on, perspective has been discovered.
“What happened at Southampton was taken out of context,” explained the Trinidad and Tobago international, who forced George Burley’s hand with his refusal to take part against Stoke last weekend. “It’s gone now and I’m just pleased to be here at Sunderland. It was a bit of a saga, it dragged on for a week or two, but what’s done is done.
“I left Southampton on good terms. I have no ill feelings towards anyone there, I’ve been there for three years and everyone down there’s a friend. Everyone down there – regardless of the circumstances – is pleased for me. I think people are pleased that I’ve made a step towards the pinnacles of my career.”
Jones is perhaps naive to think that all at St Mary’s are pleased with the manner in which he departed the Championship club, although satisfaction should be sought in the deal that ensured a protracted transfer progressed. To sign a striker with a mere two Premier League appearances to his name, Keane spent £6m, with Stern John joining Southampton as part of the deal. The Saints paid the Trinidad club W Connection just £100,000 to sign Jones three years ago.
Other than Craig Gordon and Tore Andre Flo, no player has cost the Black Cats more, but although a staggering transfer fee will bring understandable pressures, Jones has no concerns.
“The price tag doesn’t bother me,” said a striker who is expected to make his debut in tomorrow’s televised fixture at Manchester United. “No matter what league you’re playing in, you’re going to be under some pressure, but I won’t be worrying about the transfer fee. I’ll just be doing the best I can.
“Players have no input in what their price tag might be, it’s no one’s fault. Southampton wanted to get a good price and, to be fair, they’ve been in the Championship for two years and don’t have much cash. It’s not a concern for me. I’m just pleased it has been done.”
Keane has been as outspoken as ever this summer and earlier this month the Irishman criticised players for refusing to head north and for being obsessed with living near London. Having bucked the trend, a player prepared to uproot had no qualms about making such a big move.
“It wasn’t an issue,” said Jones, who has joined compatriots Dwight Yorke and Carlos Edwards on Wearside. “I moved 4,000 miles from Trinidad and Tobago to join Southampton so moving here wasn’t a problem at all. I just want to be playing in the Premier League.
“It was a simple decision to make and it always helps when you’ve got friends at a club. Dwight and Carlos being at Sunderland wasn’t a major factor for me, but it was a factor.
“I was speaking to them two or three times a week even before all this started to happen and they were always joking and saying, ‘When are you coming up here?’ Them being here is the icing on the cake for me.
“Regardless of what they’ve told me, everyone in England can see that Sunderland Football Club has great ambition. What happened last year showed that. People know what Sunderland is about. You don’t need words to persuade you to come here.”
“I’ve never set goal targets, I set performance targets. The aim is to be better each day, whether that’s in training or in games. I hope those performances will help me to score goals in the games.
“Everyone’s different and when you come to the Premier League you just have to find your own way and play how you play. I hope the way I play will enable me to be a success.”
The price-tag does not bother me . . . I’ll do the best I can.