Big interview: Sean Clare a different player as Hearts' new right-back thanks to Daniel Stendel
Englishman thriving under Tynecastle manager's attacking style
Sean Clare looks a different player thriving in a different role under Daniel Stendel’s guidance. If one player personifies Hearts’ gradual renaissance since the German coach arrived at Tynecastle Park, it is Clare.
He heads to Perth tomorrow feeling confident and established in Stendel’s side. Not in his traditional midfield berth, but at right-back. The position previously held by Michael Smith now belongs to an Englishman answering his critics in the best way possible.
Clare, 23, sought help from a sports psycholgist earlier this season as he toiled to cope with the intensity of life at Hearts. Results were poor, his form was criticised weekly and he did not look content in a maroon shirt.
Stendel’s arrival has transformed both Clare’s mindset and confidence as Hearts now focus on a more attacking gameplan. Friends and former team-mates down south have questioned why he is lining up in defence but the player knows he is justifying his selection.
“There have been a few questions and raised eyebrows but most of my friends and family understand football,” said Clare, speaking exclusively to the Evening News.
“You do what you can to help the team. I feel my performances have changed a few people’s minds on whether I can play right-back or not.
“The manager’s style of play helps. The attacking football is more my style. It’s also been an accumulation of hard work, which has been ongoing since I got here behind the scenes.
“It’s hard to see it on the pitch if results aren’t right. Sometimes it takes a bit longer for it to come to the fore but I’m happy it has done now. It’s still only the beginning. We have a long way to go, there is more to come from me and a lot more to improve on.”
Adapting to a new position takes time and Clare is not naive enough to think he is suddenly the new Kyle Walker. Or even the new Michael Smith. Yet his appetite for the right-back role is clear.
“It’s okay. I’m learning it. With the way the manager wants to play, it’s not as defensive as when I played it before. That’s better for me. I’m more of an attacking player but I’m learning the defensive side. I feel I’ve got things to offer going forward from that position.
“It’s about playing wherever you can help the team. If that’s right-back, I have no problem with it. At the moment, I think that’s where the manager sees me. We have quite a lot of competition in other positions so things could change at any point.”
There is no attempt to publicly wallow in his own prosperity. That is not Clare’s style. He prefers more understated methods of proving his point and is unquestionably happier for it these days.
“It’s always good to put in good performances. People will always have opinions, whether you’re doing well or not,” he admitted.
“Speaking to the sports psychologist helped a lot. It puts things into perspective. Sometimes you can dig yourself into a hole when things aren’t as serious as they look. Also, putting in performances and getting results helps not only me individually but the team as well. We all have a bit more confidence now so long may it continue.”
A win at St Johnstone tomorrow could potentially be sufficient to shunt Hearts off the bottom of the league. That depends on other teams’ results. Stendel’s side will simply go about their business – by attacking their hosts.
“He has just instilled a belief in the team,” said Clare. “He doesn’t mind if you lose the ball as long as you work to win it back. He wants people to try things and get at players. That suits me and a lot of others. He demands that, if you try something and don’t succeed, try to win the ball back. It gives players more freedom and confidence to attempts things. I feel that has been working in games for all of us.”
Supporters are certainly responding. Clare is pleased to report that the recent messages landing in his social media inbox have been far more positive than some of those received earlier in the campaign.
“When the team is doing well, you will always get more positive feedback. We can hear the fans on the pitch and they are right behind us,” he said. “It was hard for them to get behind us earlier in the season because we weren’t giving them performances to get behind. At the moment, we are and they are helping us.
“I think they can see we are playing with more intensity. I wouldn’t say we weren’t trying before but we are more focused in terms of where we need to push or where we need to sit off.
“We are playing attacking football with full-backs bombing forward, strikers filling the box and centre-backs stepping into midfield. It’s fun to watch for the fans.”