Sean Clare has been handed a second chance of a career as a Charlton Athletic player. And he is determined to take it.
The first time around he was spotted playing for his district Hackney and joined the Addicks youth set-up. The fact senior academy scout Bert Dawkins offered to drive him to and from training helped seal the deal ahead of interest from other London clubs. But Clare eventually chose to channel extra energy into his education following a chat with his dad David, who spent 18 years as a sub-editor at The Guardian.
“I was quite an under-developed player physically,” recalls Clare, 24. “I wasn’t playing as much as I’d have probably liked and it started affecting my life away from football in terms of schoolwork and how I was around school. I wasn’t as bubbly as I’d normally be.
“Me and my Dad had a conversation. He didn’t sway it – he just put things out there. We came to the decision it was best for me to step away at that time. I’m a strong believer that if it is meant for you, it will come back to you. It worked out alright.
“The thinking was to have a plan B, get all my education sorted – focus on that for a bit – while trying to still play football.
“I went to Dagenham and Orient but I wasn’t really feeling it at the time. I went to two sports colleges. They allowed me to do A levels and a BTEC. From there I went to the Nike Academy.”
Clare’s career really kicked on at Hearts. They finished Scottish Cup runners up in his first season north of the border – and he converted a penalty in their 3-0 semi-final win over Inverness to set up a showdown with Celtic.
Clare had been forced to cope with criticism from some of the fanbase before flourishing after Daniel Stendal replaced Craig Levein as boss.
“The beginning at Hearts was difficult,” he said. “I was coming back from a long-term injury. It was a different kind of football and I wasn’t playing the position I normally play. Hearts is a massive club and the fans are very demanding, as they should be.
“Once I was fully fit I started showing what I could do. Daniel Stendal played a lot of attacking football and that suited me at the time. I was able to get forward and chip in with goals and assists – a lot more than I did playing in other positions where I wasn’t able to influence the game as much.”
Clare’s performances for the Jambos attracted the interest of Oxford United. Both he and Conor Washington, now a team-mate in SE7, had relegation wage cuts written into their contracts.
The Covid-19 pandemic saw the 2019-20 Scottish season decided on points per game – with no matches played after mid-March.
Clare signed a three-year contract at Oxford, with Karl Robinson intent on making him an attacking right-back. Five months later he joined Burton on loan and was back in his favoured midfield role.
“I didn’t expect to be leaving [Oxford] so soon, but I went there to try something – to convert to a right-back,” said Clare. “We didn’t get off to a good start and we weren’t able to work on some of the stuff we needed to work on, as much as I would’ve probably liked and needed.
“The plan didn’t go exactly to plan. But I gave a decent account of myself. Then I went to Burton and I was able to show what I can do in the centre of the park. When I joined them everyone had written them off. For us to stay up, and in the fashion we did, was one achievement that will stay with me for a long time.
“I understand the vision for right-back and I believe with coaching I could be a good right-back. But I believe my best position, especially now and going forward, is as a box-to-box midfielder – someone who can get forward, try and chip in with goals and assists but also do the dirty work for the team.
“I wouldn’t say it was failed [at Oxford] – it was just brief. It’s helped me learn a lot and show people that centre-mid is my best position. When you get a call up to play for a massive club like Charlton, you must have done something right.”
Addicks manager Nigel Adkins has won promotion three times from England’s third tier, twice with Scunthorpe United and once with Southampton.
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