independent

Wednesday 23 April 2014

I want Trap to see me as a centre-back: Clark

WITH every passing Premier League week, his exclusion from the Ireland set-up becomes a bigger mystery, but Ciaran Clark has no intention of getting caught up in the hysteria.

He turned 23 last week, and has been through enough in his short career to know that football has a habit of throwing up surprises. Working under four different managers in the space of four seasons at Aston Villa illustrates that point.

So he's not going to beat himself up over his year-long exile from the international scene. With so much to smile about in his club career, the centre-half is determined to accentuate the positives.

After all, there are worse things happening in the world. Spending time at a club where the captain, Stiliyan Petrov, has been engaged in a battle with leukemia places all other problems in context.

"A massive shock to everyone," says Clark, reflecting on the moment that Petrov's team-mates first learned of his illness.

"But things are looking good at the minute. (Villa announced in August that the Bulgarian is in remission) He's been in and around the lads a little bit and it gives everyone a boost when he comes to the dressing-room before the game and wishes us luck.

"It puts everything else into perspective."

FRUSTRATION

Clark has admitted frustration at his inability to convince Giovanni Trapattoni that he is worth his place in a panel where there is a shortage of top-flight centre-halves, yet he recognises that the only suitable response is to keep on producing for Villa manager Paul Lambert. He'll make a far stronger case that way.

With a rueful laugh, he acknowledges that his cause probably wasn't helped by the fact that Trapattoni's sole visit to Villa Park this term coincided with an afternoon to forget, a 3-1 defeat to Nikica Jelavic inspired Everton where he was dismissed for a professional foul on the Croatian.

"Maybe it would have been better if he'd been at a different game," he says.

Since then, his newly formed central-defensive partnership with summer acquisition Ron Vlaar has improved.

The pre-season injury suffered by Richard Dunne opened up a window of opportunity for Clark, who has enjoyed a sustained run in his favoured position.

At various stages under previous managers, he has operated at left-back or in a defensive midfield role. When Lambert arrived, there was no heart-to-heart chat about his preference.

"I could tell from pre-season that he was looking at using me at centre-half," he explains. "And then when Ron came in, we trained together from the start and seemed to click.

"There's been a couple of games where we haven't done so well, but the majority of games we've done really well."

If he can improve that ratio, the ideal scenario is that the Irish situation will look after itself.

Clark, a London native who captained England at underage level, was immediately promoted into Trapattoni's squad once he made the decision to switch allegiance in the autumn of 2010.

He was capped twice, in Dublin encounters with Wales and Uruguay in the spring of the following year, lining out at left-back in both friendlies.

The Uruguay test, in particular, was a rough ride for a makeshift defence.

Naturally, he would welcome an opportunity to impress Trapattoni in his favoured berth.

"I've been a centre-half all the way up at Villa," he says. "I was playing left-back at the time (of the Ireland call-ups) and I was just happy to be in and around the team, but I've always wanted to get a run in this position so perhaps they'll be able to look at me there."

Contact from Trapattoni before Euro 2012 did lift his spirits, even if it initially kicked off with bad news. Ahead of his final squad announcement, the Italian notified Clark that he had missed the cut, but at least it demonstrated that he was in the frame. Marc Wilson received a similar call as a bolt from the blue, and is now involved in the World Cup campaign.

As it stands, Clark has a better chance of encountering Germany on the PlayStation than featuring on Friday week. But he's not giving up hope on being involved further down the road to Brazil.

"I had to take it as a positive that he called me before Poland," Clark explains.

"I was disappointed to miss out, but it showed I was in his thoughts. All I can do now is keep my head down.

"I need to be playing week in, week out to catch the eye of the Irish staff. So if I keep working hard then maybe I might be able to be in the squad for a couple of the qualifying games. That would be absolutely brilliant for me."

Either way, he feels that Ireland have a bright future. Close to home, there are other young hopefuls aiming to follow in his footsteps.

With academy products Samir Carruthers, Graham Burke and Derrick Williams on the fringes of the first-team set-up at Villa along with ex- Shamrock Rovers man Enda Stevens, there could soon be more than one reason for Trapattoni's people to monitor affairs in Birmingham closely.

Encountering an in-form Shane Long last week reminded Clark of talent that is already operating within Trapattoni's squad.

"At this minute in time, I've got to concentrate on playing well for Aston Villa," he stresses. "And then hopefully the call will come."

Ciaran Clark appears in EA Sports FIFA 13 -- out now on all formats including PlayStation 3, PlayStation Vita, Xbox 360 and iOS. Visit www.jointheclub13.com/uk/en for more info.

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