Leeds United have made an impressive start on their return to the Championship as they currently sit third after 16 matches, eight points behind the automatic promotions places.
The foundations of their success so far have been built from placing their faith in Daniel Farke to rebuild a fractured squad that was damaged from a gut-wrenching relegation.
He offloaded several players who wanted to immediately jump ship, either permanently or on loan, as the likes of Tyler Adams, Rodrigo, Brenden Aaronson and Jack Harrison all left the club.
The German then splashed the cash wisely on nine new recruits, including Ethan Ampadu, Joel Piroe and Glen Kamara.
Those three, in particular, have played pivotal roles in their positive start to the season and although the Whites largely nailed their recruitment this summer, that wasn’t the case during Victor Orta’s reign, who left his post as director of football in May.
Towards the end of his six-year spell at the club, Orta’s reckless decision-making in the transfer window was the main reason why Leeds plummeted towards the Championship.
This was prevalent in the summer of 2022, as star players Kalvin Phillips and Raphinha were replaced with Jesse Marsch-inspired signings, Adams, Luis Sinisterra, Aaronson and Georginio Rutter.
Despite spending a whopping €151m (£132m) on talent, as per Transfermarkt, none of them were able to prevent their landslide into the second tier, despite finishing in ninth the season before.
Orta’s work as director of football wasn’t all bad, though, as demonstrated by the £10m sale of Jack Clarke to Tottenham Hotspur in 2019.
Although that looks like a bad deal now – given his blistering form – at the time it looked like a resounding success.
Jack Clarke’s Leeds United statistics
Clarke broke onto the scene as an exciting young winger coming through the academy and made his debut at the age of 17 in a 1-1 draw against Brentford in October 2018.
Having broken into the first team under Marcelo Bielsa, the teenager contributed two goals and two assists in 22 Championship appearances during the 2018/19 campaign.
Mauricio Pochettino, Tottenham’s manager at the time, felt he could take a gamble on the youngster’s potential and paid a whopping £10m for him in the summer of 2019, but he struggled to break into the first-team at north London, making just four senior appearances in total.
He returned to Elland Road on loan for the 2019/20 season in search of regular first-team football, but he saw his game time extremely limited in the first half of the campaign, managing just 19 minutes of Championship action, which saw him recalled and sent to QPR.
While the allure of new surroundings and the chance to impress was an attractive proposition for Clarke, he only managed six substitute appearances for the Hoops, which left Leeds delighted about receiving such a fee for a player who barely made a name for himself in the second tier.
One more disappointing loan spell would follow at Stoke City but when Sunderland came calling at the start of the 2021/22 campaign – and Clarke’s expected transfer value (xTV) was at a lowly €1.7m (£1.4m) – it seemed Orta’s decision to sell him was a good one.
Jack Clarke’s Sunderland statistics
Despite managing just one goal and four assists in 20 appearances for the Black Cats as they were promoted back to the Championship in 2022, he was signed on a permanent deal from Spurs in that summer.
Although it was questioned at the time, taking a gamble on a player whose stock was low has proven to be an inspired piece of business, with the 22-year-old becoming one of the second tier’s most sought-after prospects.
In 48 matches across all competitions last term, he began to deliver on the potential that his formative years promised, posting 11 goals and supplying 13 assists as he helped inspire Sunderland to a play-off place.
The fleet-footed winger, who was described by writer Josh Bunting as “unplayable” for his performances, has taken his goalscoring to new heights during this campaign and alerted a whole host of top-flight clubs in the process.
With a whopping nine goals in 16 matches, clubs have been left salivating over Clarke’s ability to cut in from the left flank and leave opposition defences in his wake.
It’s this signature move that defenders have found near impossible to stop and when they do hack him down, it normally results in a penalty, with the Englishman ranking in the top 1% against his positional peers in the Championship for penalties won this season, as per FBref.
Clarke’s exceptional dribbling and effortless ball-carrying have also stood out as the best in the division, ranking top for successful dribbles completed per game (3.4), as per Sofascore, while beating the likes of dribble-happy widemen Jaden Philogene (3.3) and Kamaldeen Sulemana (3.2).
When Leeds cashed in on the Englishman for £10m four years ago, dubbed a “super talent” and a “diamond” by Mowbray, they wouldn’t have anticipated him outscoring every player in the Whites squad this season, including fellow dribble demon, Daniel James.
Jack Clarke vs Dan James 23/24 statistics
James was signed from Manchester United for £25m in 2021 and although the Welshman struggled in the Premier League, scoring just four times for Leeds in 36 appearances, he’s found his range in the second tier.
The 26-year-old has chalked up four goals and four assists thus far, which places him joint second for goal contributions in the Leeds squad with Rutter, but he still doesn’t come close to eclipsing the devastating impact that Clarke has made in the second tier.
When comparing their statistics in the Championship, Leeds are left cursing their decision-making in the transfer market as the former Thorp Arch Academy graduate is levels ahead of James across most attacking metrics.
Jack Clarke vs Dan James – Championship (23/24)
Touches (Att pen)
Carries into the pen area
All stats via FBref
Although James averages more key passes and posts more non-penalty goals per 90, it is telling that Clarke beats the Leeds man in every other category, smashing him off the park for how dangerous he is at carrying the ball forward.
At the time, receiving £10m for the £17k-per-week whiz looked like an inspired piece of business, but considering Sunderland have set an asking price of more than £20m for him, amid interest from Burnley and Brentford ahead of January, seeing him reach his Premier League potential is a bitter pill for the Whites hierarchy to swallow.