Sean Clare’s decision to sign for Hearts after leaving Sheffield Wednesday has raised eyebrows in some quarters, but the midfielder is adamant his move to Tynecastle offers him everything he needs to accelerate his development as a footballer.
The Londoner, who turned 22 yesterday, was highly regarded at Hillsborough and was offered a new contract after forcing his way into the first team earlier this year following loan stints with Bury, Accrington Stanley and Gillingham. Tottenham Hotspur, Everton, Leeds United, Aston Villa and Rangers were among a host of clubs linked with him when he declined the chance to extend his deal with the South Yorkshire club, but, after a summer of recuperating from a foot operation and pondering his next move, he finalised a three-year contract with Hearts on Sunday, to the surprise of many down south.
“I just thought it was the right thing for me to move on,” said Clare. “I thoroughly enjoyed my time at Sheffield Wednesday and have no bad feelings towards anyone there. I just felt at this moment in time I needed to be here to kick on and improve myself.
“I can understand why some people have questioned the decision to come up here, but it is difficult to understand moves if you aren’t in my shoes. I’m sure if I had a conversation with people then they would understand it more. I expected that reaction and it doesn’t faze me. People don’t know exactly what is going on in my head.”
Having made just 44 senior appearances thus far, Clare’s priority was ensuring he picked a club that would allow him to play regular first-team football and start fulfilling his clear potential. In the end, he felt Hearts, riding high in the ever-improving Scottish Premiership and with a clear desire to give young talent a chance, was the best option.
“I had to take my time to think, I had to make sure my injury was right – it is now, it’s all perfect – and coming here, I felt the management staff really wanted to make me better,” Clare explained. “That’s something I want. I believe in myself, but to have coaches that really believe in you is important and can kick you on ten more levels than you ever thought you could get to.
“This is a tough league, a hard league to win games in, and players of my age should think about it (coming to Scotland). Especially at this stage of my career, I feel that I can benefit from working hard to get in the team and, once I’m there, playing regular games in difficult situations. I’ll come out of that a much better player than signing somewhere else and maybe not playing.”
Sheffield Wednesday would have been subject to training compensation if Clare had signed for another English club, but the player insists that wasn’t a factor in him ending up in Scotland. “I don’t think my compensation was a lot regardless of the club,” he said. “With the clubs I did speak to in England, that was never a problem, so I don’t think that hindered anything – and it didn’t sway my decision. I came to Hearts because I wanted to be here.”
Clare watched from the Fir Park main stand on Saturday as his new team moved five points clear at the top of the Premiership with a hard-fought 1-0 win over Motherwell. “I wasn’t sure what to expect from that game but it was a battle,” he said. “Like the manager said, it’s a great result for us against a very good side and a very tough side to play against. I enjoyed it and I was trying to see where I could fit in to the team, but first I’ve got to work my way in to it.”
As a man who signs off his Instagram posts with the hashtag #SeanFlair, Clare is intent on entertaining the Tynecastle support. “I’m very direct and like to dribble with it, a lot of taking players on – but obviously not too much, the team’s more important,” he said. “I think I can bring a very direct nature, goals and assists from set pieces or within the game. I’m someone who’s very athletic, energetic and really passionate to win games and trophies.”
Clare’s playing style has been compared in the past to that of Tottenham and England superstar Dele Alli. “I’ve had that comparison but I’ve never said it,” he laughed. “I think it’s potentially because we look fairly similar. I can see why people have said it because we have a similar running style and we both like to get involved in goals and assists. I probably dribble a lot more with the ball and am more direct than him but I definitely look at his game to take bits from it that I feel can improve my game.”
A whopping 33 years have elapsed since any team outwith Celtic and Rangers last won the Scottish title. As someone who grew up in England, Clare is unburdened by this weight of history and sees no limits to what he can help his new team achieve. “My honest opinion is any team in this league can really win it if they really knuckle down,” he said. “Some teams have a higher budget or this, that and the other but anything is possible. In football, once you get on the pitch it’s 11 v 11 but coming in to a team that’s top of the league is a great feeling. The boys are buzzing, the staff are buzzing, training’s really fast and everyone’s working really hard to be better for the next game and keep winning. We’ll just have to see how far it takes us.”