The artifical teenager who has influenced Pompey's Webster sale
Matt Clarke has proven deceptive.
The physique contravenes his years, the facial features defy his birth certificate.
This is no straight-forward central defender able to be neatly pigeonholed for footballing convenience.
Granted, his natural left-footed game appealed to Paul Cook last summer – a deal clincher if ever there was one.
Pompey’s boss craved balance at the heart of his defence and was prepared to sacrifice skipper Paul Robinson to achieve it.
Yet Clarke has offered plenty more than a box-ticking exercise on account of his favoured foot.
With 33 appearances and one goal, he has put himself in the frame for a permanent Fratton Park switch.
In the process, Cook has been willing to allow the prized Adam Webster to exit as part of the player-plus-cash deal with Ipswich.
Clarke stands at 19 years of age, two years younger than his sometime defensive partner who is heading for Portman Road.
However, he possesses the bruising build of a man, the bustling power of an experienced campaigner and the looks of a veteran.
Certainly not a countenance befitting a teenager with fewer than 40 career games at first-team level.
His game is just as much of a contradiction.
A no-nonsense figure in Pompey’s defence, Clarke has demonstrated his excellence aerially and willingness to scrap on terra firma.
He has battled and fought with League Two’s most awkward striking customers, rarely letting himself down.
Yet, noticeably, his comfort on the ball has developed considerably during his time under Cook’s tutelage.
In a friendly at Gillingham during the early days of his Pompey presence, the treasured left-foot was delivering the ball out of play rather than finding the channel.
As the season progressed, Clarke could be found cruising upfield with the ball at his feet, displaying admirable ease.
An increasing confidence to instigate attacks revealed an entirely different side to his footballing nature.
Christian Burgess and Webster still remain more effective in possession, yet the loanee made massive strides during a season of learning.
Gradually, Clarke is metamorphosing into the ball-playing central defender Cook relishes in his sides – with brute strength to accompany it.
Webster will be a loss, of course he will.
Yet Pompey’s artificial teenager continues to mature at rapid pace.
– NEIL ALLEN