By Jason McKeown
Bradford City have moved to strengthen their frontline by making Billy Clarke their fifth signing of the summer. The 27-year-old forward was released by League One rivals Crawley in May, after two years at the Broadfield Stadium. Clarke was not offered a new deal by John Gregory, despite the Crawley manager describing him as his “little Lionel Messi” last January.
Clarke came through the youth ranks at Ipswich, but he never established himself as a regular and was loaned out to six different clubs by the Tractor Boys (he scored against the Bantams for Brentford in April 2009). That summer, Clarke signed for Blackpool and spent three seasons at Bloomfield Road; but a succession of injuries limited his impact. He missed the entire 2010/11 season – and therefore Blackpool’s Premier League adventure. His time at Crawley has been similarly punctured by spells on the sidelines.
Indeed, for a player who made his debut just under nine years ago, Clarke has only started 165 senior games (73 substitute appearances). 49 goals over his career represents a decent goal ratio – over half of these coming in Crawley colours.
Clearly this is not a signing to set supporters’ pulses racing, but with Phil Parkinson expected to build the 2014/15 team around the strike partnership of James Hanson and Aaron Mclean, Clarke appears to be a good back-up striker and will offer competition. He can also play on the left wing; and with those much-discussed budget cuts to manage, the City boss will value having versatile players to call upon. With Oli McBurnie and Lewis Clarkson also competing for starting places, it would appear that Clarke’s arrival means Parkinson has finalised his striker options for next season.
Going back to Gregory’s Messi comparison, this was made due to Clarke’s desire to play in the hole between midfield and attack. Gregory stated, “If you want to play in that hole, you have to be exceptional and Billy will be exceptional one day, but not just yet maybe. Billy is my little Lionel Messi.” On paper, he therefore appears to have a touch of Alan Connell about him.
Clarke has signed a two-year contract at Valley Parade.