Arsenal have recalled Harry Clarke from his loan with the Staggies, with the versatile 20 year old defender reportedly set to become Shaun Maloney’s first signing as Hibs manager. He will initially be on loan with the Hibees until the end of the season, before signing permanently upon the expiry of his contract at the Gunners.
Clarke was originally signed to be a centre back, but quickly became County’s starting right back as his attacking output was too good to ignore, with three goals and two assists in 17 matches. He will be a sore miss, and Malky Mackay now has another port of call during the January transfer window, as Connor Randall is now the only right back currently at the club.
As one of six loan signings made by Mackay in the summer, one of the main concerns of this short term transfer strategy has come to pass, with no guarantee of keeping somebody who could be a key player for even half a season. To be clear, I don’t think that the way that the club went about its most recent window deserves a whole lot of criticism, and the loans give us access to a quality of player that would otherwise be out of our reach, like Joseph Hungbo, who I have no doubt will be a Premier League star in the near future.
My point is, provided that Ross County are a Premiership team come next season, I’m interested to see if Mackay’s project will begin to involve more longer term signings in the future, both to reduce the frequency of situations like this, and to go from being seen by the rest of the country as relegation fodder, to a more stable top flight team, somewhat like the recent transformation of St. Mirren. Mackay clearly has an eye for a good player, with more of his signings being hits than misses, though I appreciate the subjectivity at play here.
Back to Clarke, he leaves a gap in more ways than one- reducing our coverage at centre back as well as at right back. His departure also leaves the Staggies more lopsided. One aspect this team has over Ross County from last season is frequent goal contributions from players all over the park, as opposed to just those up front. Clarke was a huge part of that.
It hurts to lose the services of such a talented player so early, but with an entire transfer window to find a replacement, plus more additions all over the pitch. This development is bound to make it bittersweet, but I think we should be excited for the month ahead!