According to Sean Clare, he didn’t require the Hairdryer. Only a gentle reminder he was better than what he was showing. This much was evident in training so why was he struggling to replicate such form in a matchday situation?
Hearts coach Liam Fox made sure the 22-year-old recognised this at half-time of Sunday’s Scottish Cup clash with Livingston. He was described as having had a “pop” by first-team coach Jon Daly. Clare portrays Fox’s input as “more a dig”. He added: “It came out differently in the press”.
The player wasn’t criticising anyone, least of all reporters. After all, his own father, David, is a sub-editor, who spent 18 years at The Guardian. Clare knows the score. In any case, the source of the story was Hearts’ own management team.
Also, Clare agreed the central tenet of the exchange was correct: it was true he hadn’t yet showcased his best form. He resolved to rectify the situation. Three minutes into the second half he struck the goal that proved the winner.
“The point he [Fox] was saying is that they know what I can do, they see it in training and flashes in games,” explained Clare. “They know that when I am at my best I can be a match winner in this team with the support of the other players.
“That’s what they wanted. That’s really what he was saying – you know you can do it, we know you can do it, let’s do it.”
And Clare just did it, which is apt given his previous experience as a pupil at the Nike Academy.
This was following a difficult period in his life. He had stopped attending the Charlton academy for the simple reason he no longer found it fun. He wondered about re-entering formal education. Unlike many budding footballers, he at least had this option. He received offers from Brunel and Loughborough universities. “In my career I have had a lot of knock backs and got back up from them,” said Clare. “I was at the Charlton academy when I was younger. I was not enjoying it and I decided with my dad to leave and go into education. I went around a few clubs; some did not want me, some wanted me but could not pay money because I left on my own accord.
“It’s not been a smooth ride,” he added. “I went to the Nike Academy. You go for trials there, sometimes it doesn’t work and sometimes it does. I feel that makes you a stronger person. I can deal with a lot of criticism, especially constructive criticism because I know it is for the best.”
Clare knows the doubts were growing among Hearts fans that he was all he was cracked up to be. He was introduced as someone who had turned down offers to play in the English Premier League in order to come to Hearts. It was only natural such talk would generate excitement. A run of 13 games without a goal wasn’t what was envisioned even if Clare is quick to correct anyone who refers to him as a striker. He’s more comfortable with the term attacking midfielder. Even then, having signed in September, expectations were he would hit the net before a Scottish Cup game in January against Livingston.
“I didn’t know it would be like that when I came,” he admitted. “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. 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.”
He pays tribute to his family, including journalist father David. “He loves football,” he said. “He used to report on it for a long time. He was an editor at The Guardian and he knows what he is talking about when it comes to football. He is someone I turn to, so it’s good to have him as well as the coaches here.
“He left The Guardian and just does freelance stuff now but he has been a big part of me getting to where I am now and he’ll be a big part of where I go next and how I improve.”
Then there’s his late aunt Wendy, who was the subject of his gesture towards the skies after scoring his first goal for Hearts on Sunday. “She was massive in terms of being a support system, she gave me lots of belief,” he said.
“But also when I was at Charlton my mum and dad were working and my sister wasn’t old enough to take me to places so she would come and take me to training when no one could, pack me a lunch and take me back and talk to me and keep me company.
“Without her I wouldn’t be here today because I wouldn’t have been able to play at Charlton, I wouldn’t have even got to training. She was a best friend, someone I could talk to.”