Jay Clarke and his family left England for Spain sixteen years ago and although that means the young forward has spent the vast majority of his life in his family’s adopted country, he believes the move was for the best in terms of his football career.
“I probably would have been a different player [if he grew up in England] because there’s more clubs in London,” he says. “But to be honest, for my type of player, it’s better in Spain because it’s more technical and also I am more unique here.”
The 19-year-old has grown up learning football the Spanish way and twice made the bench for Peña Deportiva in the third-tier last season. This year he has joined fourth-tier side Guadix CF which is closer to where his family first chose to relocate all those years ago.
“We left London when I was 3 years old,” he recalls. “My parents said living in London was very stressful and they wanted a different upbringing for myself and my older sister. So we all moved to a beautiful town in Granada called Montefrio.”
It didn’t take long for Clarke to embed himself in his new surroundings and at the age of 6 he joined the local side Montefrío CF in a move which would shape his future years. His ten seasons at his local club proved incredibly fruitful, scoring goals at an alarming rate. In fact in his final season at the club, he fired an incredible 73 goals in all competitions for the youth side.
His impressive performances did not go unnoticed by bigger teams but he continued to turn down offers from the capital due to the distance it would put between himself and his family. That was until the age of 16 when he knew his time had come to progress, both on and off the pitch.
“When I was 16, I moved to Granada with my sister and focused on my football and started getting my coaching badges.
“When I turned 17, I got my A license there and then mid-season I was scouted to play in Almeria for La Cañada Atletico in the Division of Honor, which is the highest U19 league in Spain.
“Then the next year I had an offer from Cadiz (a side who played in La Liga as recently as 2006). After starting there I was all set for pre-season but they didn’t have any housing organised so I left. That is when I got a call to play in Ibiza for Peña Deportiva.”
During his time progressing through the ranks across Spain, Clarke made remarkable progress on his coaching badges alongside continuing to make an impression on the pitch. After many years of playing youth football for various clubs, he was finally given his chance to train in the first team in Ibiza.
“The manager really believed in me and for most of the season I trained with them [the first team]. That really helped me for this season moving into senior football. My teammates were super helpful and really nice people from all over Spain.”
After his experiences in the first team with Peña Deportiva, the forward left the club for Guadix CF in pursuit of senior minutes but it was not his only reason for making the move back to the Spanish mainland.
“I am very excited. A lot of under-19 players moving into senior football struggle to find teams in Tercera Division (fourth-tier). I see my family a lot as well, they are only an hour away.
“I also moved to Granada (where Guadix are based) because it’s where I got my coaching badges and this year it’s my last one [equivalent to UEFA Pro Licence] so I’m excited about everything to be honest.”
Studying for the UEFA Pro Licence at the age 19 is a remarkable achievement. Not only has Clarke been improving on the pitch but the dedication he has shown to coaching at the same time makes him a very unique case. He will be one of the youngest to ever achieve a UEFA Pro Licence once his course is over.
Back on the field, so far this season the forward has made a couple of appearances for his new side as they look to get the most out of a unique asset such as Clarke.
“I’m 1.9 metres tall and I play to keep the ball for the team,” he says describing his style of play. “I win most aerial battles and I consider myself to have good vision. I score most of my goals in the area from crosses, basically I’m an authentic number nine.
“I always like to compare myself to Didier Drogba.”
Looking ahead, the progress he has made in coaching would make it seem like his future may lay off the field but he still has ambitions as a player, especially when it comes to a return to his birthplace.
“Of course,” he says when asked if he would like to play in England. “It would be a lovely experience and I’m sure I will do it when I’m fully ready and the time is right. I have to also wait for the right team to come along so first I have to prove myself these first senior seasons.”
There remains still one more matter of discussion however. Jay Michael Edward Clarke is a quintessentially British name but has spent 16 of his 19 years in Spain. Known simply as Jay to Spanish football fans, where do his international allegiances lie?
The answer is quite resounding.
“England no doubt,” he says emphatically. “I feel completely English and all my family are too so it wouldn’t feel natural to me playing for Spain.”