BY ALAN TEMPLE – CCP_Sport
HEARTS midfielder Sean Clare is adamant his circuitous, testing route into the professional game has steeled him to handle the weight of expectation at Tynecastle as he begins to showcase his promise.
The 22-year-old arrived in Gorgie in August for a fee in the region of £170,000 after deciding to depart Sheffield Wednesday, with manager Craig Levein hailing the young playmaker’s capture as something of a coup.
Clare was still in the process of recovering from foot surgery when he joined the Jambos and his initial appearances in maroon were
However, a clinical finish in Sunday’s 1-0 Scottish Cup win over Livingston, hot on the heels of a bright display in the derby victory over Hibernian last month, suggest Clare is beginning to find his groove north of the border.
“It’s always difficult when you get criticism but it’s about turning it into positive,” said Clare. “You can’t make everyone happy all the time, all you can do is work your hardest and try and be the best you can be.
“That’s all I try to do every day and now I feel it’s starting to show. I still think there’s more to come and I’d like to think Sunday has given the fans a bit more belief in what I can do. I know there’s a lot more I can do for the team, I just need to keep working hard to show it.”
Clare’s unshakable belief in his own ability should come as no surprise. He has endured the sort of knocks that would have ended many careers but never threw in the towel.
As a 16-year-old, he was brave enough to unilaterally walk away from the security of life in the Charlton academy when it became clear he was not enjoying the experience, choosing to focus on his studies at Rushcroft and Shenfield Schools
All the while, Clare was still undergoing trials at several clubs. A few said no, some were impressed but could not afford to compensate Charlton. It was tumultuous yet character building for the teenager.
“I was at the Charlton academy when I was younger. I was not enjoying it and I decided with my dad [David] to leave and go into education. He always said to me: ‘if you’re not enjoying it there’s no point’
“It just got to a point where I just wasn’t enjoying my football, it was affecting my school, it was affecting
“I went around a few clubs; some did not want me, some wanted me but could not pay money for because I left [Charlton] of my own accord. Some people might have stopped playing football. But I always believed that if I kept working hard and got my education first, it would come.
“It’s not been a smooth ride. You go for trials there, sometimes it doesn’t work and sometimes it does. I feel that makes you a stronger person so I can deal with a lot of criticism.”
Further education suited Clare. Brunel invited him to study there, Loughborough University gave him a conditional place.
However, those offers were not as tempting as the opportunity to join the Nike Academy, where he ultimately caught the eye of Wednesday before embarking on loan stints with the likes of Bury, Accrington Stanley
“I went to the Nike Academy a bit early, which almost came as a second chance because I had already applied to university,” continued Clare. “But when I got in [to the Nike Academy] I knew I wasn’t going to university!
“It was a different route but I wouldn’t change it for the world. I think it has given me a new perspective on football and it has given me a new confidence,
As he seeks to live up to the ‘hype’ that accompanied his arrival, tonight’s encounter against Dundee is next on the agenda for Clare.
“I was conscious of the hype surrounding me coming here after it happened,” added Clare. “I didn’t know it would be like that when I came. But it’s a hype that I am willing to do my best to live up to – I am not going to shy away from it.
“I know that hype will cause potentially more criticism than other people because there is such backing. But I am the type of player that with criticism or with compliments, you have to take it all with a pinch of salt and work harder next time.”