Chris Wilder believes Leon Clarke represents the final piece in Sheffield United’s attacking jigsaw.
Clarke, the former Coventry City and Wolverhampton Wanderers centre-forward, signed a three year contract with South Yorkshire club earlier this week after leaving League One rivals Bury.
Although Wilder expressed confidence in the ability of his existing strikers Matt Done, Marc McNulty and Billy Sharp, he told The Star that Clarke’s presence provides United with a tactical flexibility they previously lacked.
“I think Leon is an outstanding acquisition for us,” Wilder said. “He brings something to the table that, despite having some really good players already here, we didn’t have before and it’s important to try and cover every possible base. All of the lads in those positions are capable of scoring goals, they’ve shown that in the past. But, crucially, I think they are all capable of scoring different types as well. They’ve got different strengths and attributes.”
United complete their preparations for the new season with a visit to Handsworth Parramore tonight. (Kick-off 7.45pm). But Wilder used his team’s penultimate warm-up fixture, against Derby County, as evidence they now possess the ability to “properly mix things up.”
“Sparky (McNulty) and Billy started that one,” he continued. “They’re both quite similar players but they are powerful and clever too. They take-up good positions and showed they can work together. Quite clearly, they can both finish too.
“Doney, if the opposition wants to try and squeeze up to the half way line, well he’s exactly the type of person you’d want running in behind. When Leon came on, he showed his touch and his power. You can talk about the tactical side but you also need to be physically strong too.”
Although Dominic Calvert-Lewin missed the 1-0 defeat by County due to injury, Wilder added: “When we were at Grimsby the game before, his physicality rattled them. Dom did ever so well. You saw what having people up there who can play but are also ready to battle physically, can do. The difference it can make.”
Clarke, who spent three years with Sheffield Wednesday earlier in his career, scored 18 goals for Bury last term. David Flitcroft, Wilder’s counterpart at Gigg Lane, described United’s opening two offers for Clarke as “comical” and “embarrassing” but, speaking ahead of tonight’s visit to Worksop, the 48-year-old once again refused to be dragged into a war-of-words.
“I understand why Bury have been saying the things that they have,” Wilder continued. “It’s because he’s an outstanding player who nobody would want to lose. Leon’s our player now though and we’re delighted to have him here.”
Wilder’s pointedly refused to namecheck Che Adams during his roll-call of United’s attacking options as Birmingham City press ahead with their attempt to capture the England youth international. City yesterday sumbitted an improved offer for Adams after seeing a £1.2m bid rejected earlier this month.
“We’re always looking at the lads in training, we’re learning lots about the group,” Wilder said. “We’ve seen them after wins and after defeats. I think we’re coming along and are in a nice shape.
“I thought (Chris) Basham and (John) Fleck looked effective in the middle of the park (against Derby) and the boys at the top of the pitch worked ever so hard. They got into some good positions and, I’m sure, with more games under their belts that will get even better. The lads at the back acquitted themselves really well too.”