Bury take big risk by selling Clarke

Leon Clarke
Leon Clarke celebrates a goal for Bury

BURY’s decision to sell Leon Clarke to Sheffield United today makes it five contracted players the Shakers have let go this summer.

Manager David Flitcroft did warn that he’d be selling but few expected this many to head out the exit door – and that both their top scorer and captain would be among them.
After coming up to League One last summer, Flitcroft felt he needed to drastically improve the quality of the squad and he attracted several players with Championship and League One pedigree.

Peter Clarke, Leon Clarke, Tom Pope, Jacobs Mellis and Danny Pugh all came in, with Flitcroft and the board often saying the chance to train at Carrington and be part of the Bury ‘project’ were the main things that attracted them. Who are they kidding? Decent wages were a huge sweetener, so too a two-year contract, especially for players in their 30s.

The club should be admired for trying to better itself, to thrive in League One rather than just survive. But during the season they realised the amount they committed to paying good wages over a two-year deal was unsustainable.

The board has been reluctant to divulge details about their business plan for fear their rivals will try to replicate it. Well, I can’t see that happening because it’s just not worked. The club’s revenue streams haven’t increased nearly as much as they’d hoped and neither have their attendances, despite returning to the third tier.

Although it was a different regime back then, the board were keen to avoid a repeat of 2011, when the Shakers’ promotion-winning squad was plundered that summer. Offering two-year deals last summer meant the club could command a fee should those players be coveted this year. That was no doubt part of their business plan, the opportunity to cash in.

Peter Clarke has left Bury for Oldham

The deals involving Danny Rose, Chris Hussey and Joe Riley were done relatively early. Bury trimmed their wage bill and made a tidy profit. But losing your captain (Peter Clarke) and your top scorer (Leon Clarke) too? At such a late stage in pre-season? To two of your league rivals? They can’t have planned for that.

The Peter Clarke deal is less concerning. Although he left for Oldham, a side which finished below Bury last season, the Shakers had already signed a new centre-half in Antony Kay and swiftly unveiled Leon Barnett too.

The Leon Clarke move has been a drawn-out process, though, made worse by the fact it was played out in public. After describing Sheffield United’s first bid as “comical”, Flitcroft claims their fourth offer ‘matched Bury’s valuation’. He insists that once the much-travelled striker wanted to speak to the Blades, Bury made sure they got the best deal for the club. He also stressed that in 12 months they’ve made a “fantastic profit”.

People don’t expect Bury to be able to compete financially with bigger clubs like that, but coming on the back of the other sales, it is alarming. Surely the Shakers were in a position of power. Yet despite knowing it would leave them with Pope (who is transfer-listed), Hallam Hope and new signing Nicky Clark as their only strikers, they still struck a deal.

Flitcroft has signed some replacements, namely Greg Leigh as well as Kay and Barnett, but Clark is not of the same calibre as Rose, Clarke and Ryan Lowe, another striker who has left this summer. The Bury boss now needs to act fast to find a proven goalgetter, and even if he does, there is no guarantee that he or the other new signings will deliver. Peter and Leon Clarke swept the board at the club’s player-of-the-season awards but you can’t rely on signings turning out that successful.

Chairman Stewart Day has often talked about his goal of steering the club back into the Championship, but until Bury have the finances to hang onto their key men then they should forget it.