Big interview: Sean Clare ready to get physical in the centre of Hearts’ midfield
Sean Clare is no Julien Brellier, Stefano Salvatori or Gary Mackay. Nor is he daunted succeeding them in the middle of Hearts’ midfield.
The Englishman is relishing changing position into his natural central area and intends to take a more robust approach.
Scottish football demands a certain physicality which Clare was not ready for when he joined Hearts last September. An ankle injury at former club Sheffield Wednesday denied him a pre-season, so he had to learn the Ladbrokes Premiership’s idiosyncrasies whilst not fully fit. That led to him playing mainly out wide.
This year he feels better prepared to establish himself in his favoured central role. Arnaud Djoum has gone, Olly Lee is going, and Clare’s challenge is to step in. Hearts supporters love a dominant central midfielder and he is ready to put his body on the line by becoming more aggressive when needed.
“That’s part of the game,” he told the Evening News in an exclusive interview. “I wouldn’t say it’s particularly my game to go through players. I like to think I bring more creativity in the centre of the pitch but it’s definitely part of it and something I have to do. If I want to stay in the team I have to do it. If I want to play well I have to do it because that’s what the league demands. I’m trying to enforce that a lot more.
“When I signed for Hearts, central midfield was where I was coming to play. With injuries and different circumstances, it was better for me to play in different positions. Central midfield is where I’d like to play and that’s where I think I’d be most beneficial to the team.
“Obviously, it’s a bit of a change. It’s more physical but I feel I’m up to that battle. I’m thankful the manager is putting belief in me but I have to back his belief with performances and show him I can do it.”
He has plenty previous experience. Clare was a box-to-box midfielder at Hillsborough having learned his trade in the physically uncompromising English Championship. He will lean on that experience for the upcoming campaign. “I played the No.8 role in a 4-3-3 at Sheffield Wednesday. When I went on loan to Gillingham, I played centrally in a 4-4-2. That’s my natural position. I’m fine playing there,” he said.
“I played there twice last season for Hearts and both times we won and both times I scored. I’m comfortable with it. I know what it’s going to involve and I know what the players I’m playing against will be like. It’s up to me to cope with that. I know I can. Now it’s down to me to go and do it and I know I can.
“You’re more in the game in the centre of the pitch, even when you don’t touch the ball. I feel it helps me to play better when I’m constantly involved. When I first came here, I got caught cold at times out wide because it’s not my natural thing to be out of the game for long spells. This will be different from last season but it’s something I’m really looking forward to. It’s a good challenge.”
Djoum’s career progress is something for any Hearts midfielder to aspire to. He was an unknown free agent who was deemed surplus to requirements at Lech Poznan in Poland. He joined Hearts in 2015 and, within two years, had become a Cameroon internationalist and won the Africa Cup of Nations.
Assuming his mantle would intimidate many footballers but Clare is confident he can thrive in Djoum’s central midfield shoes.
“Arnaud is a top player and I really rated him. He will be missed but we are different types of players,” said the 22-year-old. “Arnaud is a bit more defensive than I am so we bring different things to the team. I have to copy his physicality, hard work and tenacity. Those are things I watched all throughout last season and things I’ve learned from him.”