Retaining JCH would be real sign of progress
BRISTOL Rovers may well achieve the remarkable feat of emerging from a global pandemic in a considerably stronger position than when they entered it ahead of the 2020-21 season – but one final piece of the puzzle remains.
Putting transfer activity to one side for the moment, having secured new contracts for Alfie Kilgour, Anssi Jaakkola and Cam Hargreaves, they have begun work on the training ground at Almondsbury, and with Wael Al-Qadi establishing strong individual control over the club, the future of talismanic striker Jonson Clarke-Harris needs to be resolved.
Clarke-Harris is under contract until June 2021 and is still the bona-fide superstar within boss Ben Garner’s squad, and the last six months has witnessed a slight change in strategy surrounding the 25-year-old.
In January, there was a certain acceptance that financial restrictions in expanding the wage bill meant on-off contract talks would have to be shelved and the simple solution, that worked for player and club, was a sale. It was a reality that had not sat well with ex-boss Graham Coughlan.
But after a year of consistently finding the target in League One, with 18 months remaining on his deal at that time, that was the window in which the club could receive maximum value. It was a business decision that needed to be made for the betterment of the longterm financial health of the club.
However, despite the list of scouts regularly attending the Memorial Stadium and away grounds to monitor Clarke-Harris, the only tangible interest emerged from Charlton, who made an informal verbal offer, but when pressed to confirm in writing disappeared with the deadline approaching.
But now, unlike six months ago, Rovers’ preference is not to sell, but retain and extend his contract beyond the summer of 2021, with talks resuming during lockdown.
Clarke-Harris would be made Rovers’ highest-paid player and the centrepiece of Ben Garner’s newlook side, with the manager hoping to provide creativity for the striker who, often under Coughlan, had to make goals for himself.
There is delay and uncertainty around Clarke-Harris’ future, though, because understandably there is further interest out there, most notably from Ipswich, who the Daily Press understands have begun undertaking background checks on the striker, speaking to former coaches and team-mates.
There is also believed to a second promotion-seeking League One club interested in Clarke-Harris but, as it stands, there have been no bids nor any contact with Rovers over their man’s availability or his price-tag.
Cinderford manager Paul Michael and assistant Andrew Smith have stepped down from their roles to join Southern League rivals Yate.
They replace Paul Britton, who recently stepped down after a fouryear tenure with the Bluebells, in which he guided them back to the Premier Division with a play-off triumph over Cinderford in 2019.
Jonson Clarke-Harris holds off a Coventry defender during an FA Cup tie in January