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Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Interview with Adrian Clarke, Former Arsenal Player, Co-Founder of Sport Media Solutions by Henrik Hegedus

All images courtesy of Adrian Clarke and Sport Media Solutions.

by Henrik Hegedus for World Football Commentaries.

Supporters who went to Highbury in the 1990s may remember the talented left-sided youngster who was spotted by Arsenal's scout Steve Rowley and worked with George Graham, Bruce Rioch and Arsène Wenger at the team. He also had represented England at Under-15 and Under-18 level. Yes, he is Adrian Clarke, who since then has made the transition to football journalism. Adrian is the co-founder of Sport Media Solutions Ltd. (SMS) with a wide range of services, including columns, features, interviews, and online packages. SMS is a regular contributor of world famous magazines and websites such as FourFourTwo, Rugby World, UEFA.com, and Sky.com.

Set a thief to catch a thief as they say. How did it work out for you? Was it really an advantage at the beginning of your career?

Haha! It’s never really been my intention to ‘catch footballers out’ as a journalist but I do probably know the mindset of players a little more than writers who haven’t played the game and in that regard it may be an advantage. I adopt a relaxed approach to my interviewing of footballers, speaking with them on a level, and often that is the best way to get them to open up and tell you more interesting things! They might trust me a little more than certain other journalists but that doesn’t mean they are not wary.

It is not unusual that players or managers give the media the silent treatment. May I ask if anybody cut you off?

Luckily, I’ve never had the silent treatment but I have occasionally had sports stars show a real disinterest and that can be quite off-putting! The first time I interviewed Winston Bogarde when he was at Chelsea he gave me one or two word answers and clearly didn’t want to talk to me. I elected to lighten the mood by making a joke about it and after that – and a few more interviews – he lightened up a great deal and in the end I was someone he trusted.

As a journalist what was your best nick as far as (season) predictions go? Any serious ‘mishit’ still subject of jokes among the blokes?

Just because I played the game and now write about it doesn’t guarantee my predictions are good! I have made as many duff predictions as anyone else but I can’t remember being given too much stick for any of them.

You already have two successful careers under your belt; what’s more you have recently joined Arsenal TV as a co-commentator as well as writing books on Lewis Hamilton and Jonny Wilkinson. What does your card say? Adrian Clarke - ?

It just says Adrian Clarke! I’m leaving my options open as to what I do and not pigeon holing myself. I am proud to call myself a former Premier League player but those days are in the past now, so primarily I am a sports journalist. Being a broadcaster and an author is something I hope to develop over time.

So increasingly treasured anything related to big matches, even Sir Alex Ferguson has Clive Tyldesley’s commenting notes (Champions League final – 1999) framed on his wall. What is your most precious artifact?

The shirt I wore on my full Arsenal debut is signed by the team who played that day and is framed in my parent’s house so that is my best personal artifact. I also have a framed picture of Bobby Moore with Pele at the 1970 World Cup signed to Adrian from both of them which is a pretty special piece of memorabilia.

You have known David Beckham since you were schoolboys. Nonetheless, as a professional journalist and pundit what was your first reaction upon his transfer to LA Galaxy?

I was very surprised at his decision to join LA Galaxy. At the time he still had plenty to offer a top class European team and knowing how much he loves football I couldn’t understand why he’d sacrifice the last few years of his career for such a different challenge. That said, I am sure he didn’t just join them for financial reasons – he doesn’t need the money! He went there to make a difference and to help develop football in America and he has to be respected for that. Perhaps he is now regretting it given how badly this season has gone for them because fans can turn on anyone.

How do you see the near future of Arsenal? Is it contingent upon the Stan Kroenke vs. Alisher Usmanov duel, or…?

I think the future is bright for Arsenal no matter what happens but it can’t be a bad thing that two rich investors such as Kroenke and Usmanov want to be part of the club can it?! Arsenal’s board will try and resist a complete takeover for as long as possible but if other clubs such as Man City, Chelsea, or Man United continue to invest ridiculous amounts of cash then it’s inevitable that they will turn to those guys in an attempt to keep up. All I hope is that the tradition and identity of Arsenal remain, even if foreign money is called upon.

Arsenal chairman Peter Hill-Wood believes fans understand the recent transfer policy of the club. As a helpless Gunner, do you agree?

Most fans I speak to want Arsene Wenger to spend more money on established players and I tend to stand in that corner too. I think the current squad is fantastically talented and good enough to beat anyone but they do lack one or two older players who can hold the team together when the going gets tough. If the money is available in January I’d like to see the Gunners spend some of it.

There have been some serious injuries in the past few years in the Premier League. Shinguards became the basic compulsory equipment of the players in 1990 by FIFA regulations – it has been a while. Don’t you think players might need more protection along the evolution of the game? (e.g.: Calf and Achilles tendon).

No I don’t think we need any more protection. I’d hate to see footballers lining up like American Football players! The lighter boots have meant we’ve seen more foot injuries but I don’t feel it’s an overly dangerous sport. It’s physical and with that we’ll always get injuries but players don’t require more equipment in my view.

Do you have any update on Eduardo’s condition?

I hear on the grapevine that Eduardo is well ahead of schedule and doing some light training already. He’ll be back playing for the reserves before Christmas I believe. That’s brilliant news I’m sure everyone will agree. He’s a great player and after that sickening injury we all feared the worst I’m sure. It’s amazing that he is already in pretty decent shape so soon.

Talking about injuries reminds me of Petr Cech, one of the best goalkeepers of the PL along with Edwin van der Sar or Pepe Reina. With all due respect, I can not add an English keeper to the list since Peter Shilton hung up his boots. Can you see any young talent filling the gap for the national team?

England are light on top class goalkeepers there is no doubt about that. From what I’ve seen recently, Joe Hart looks the best bet to take over between the sticks for the national team. He looks to be very talented and I’d like to see him being given an opportunity sooner rather than later. Ben Foster is another who could become England’s number one too, if he can overcome injury problems. Personally I’d like to see Hart or Foster made number one when James loses his spot. It could transform them from being very good keepers to being world class. We might not ever know unless we try them!

What is your position on the introduction of possible technical assistance for referees, especially in the mirror of the FA campaign (Respect for Referees)?

I think technology should be used in football wherever it is possible. The time it takes to review a key decision is not a big issue as far as I’m concerned. I’d rather wait 60 seconds for a correct decision than witness crucial mistakes being made. In terms of Respect for referees I am all in favour of the FA’s plans. I hate seeing players screaming at officials as it sets a terrible example to kids. If that means only captains can talk to referees I will support it. It’s time football cleaned up its act behaviour-wise. It’s a brilliant sport that does not need its name tarnished by the spoilt, prima donna antics of certain players.

To quote a classical question of your life: What are you going to do next?

That’s the beauty of life – I don’t know what will come next! I am hoping to grow my business Sport Media Solutions over the coming years and turn it into a major sports content provider around the world. From a personal point of view I’d like to do more broadcasting work and write an acclaimed book. Aside from that I’ll also be trying to improve my golf and squash skills. ;-)

About the Interviewer

Henrik Hegedus is a writer based from Budapest, Hungary. By his own admission, he is a hardcore blogger and football fan, or the other way around. He is the editor of Nou San Trafford, which is a Hungarian blog, and has also written for Soccerlens, a leading UK based football news blog.

Editor's Note:

I am pleased to say that Henrik was the first guest interviewer at World Football Commentaries, and he did a great job with this discussion.

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