The Sheffield Wednesday-linked striker Jonson Clarke-Harris can play at a higher level than League One, according to one ex-Owl who knows him better than most.
Graham Coughlan, a key member of the Wednesday side which survived its first season in the Championship under Paul Sturrock, first encountered the Bristol Rovers star at Southend United in late 2012.
Coughlan was already playing for the Shrimpers when Clarke-Harris arrived on a month’s loan from Peterborough United.
Little more than six years later, the Irishman signed his former teammate for Rovers. And Clarke-Harris proceeded to score 21 goals in 33 games under Coughlan, who this week made the shock decision to quit the Gas (fourth in League One) for Mansfield Town (18th in League Two).
Coughlan’s decision is said to have been fuelled by, among other things, geography, with the 45-year-old still a resident of Sheffield (where he has raised a Wednesday-supporting son).
And that could have implications for Clarke-Harris’s future, after the Owls, along with Middlesbrough, Reading and Hull City, were this week reported to have had the 25-year-old repeatedly watched this season.
Responding to the rumours, the Rovers CEO Martyn Starnes told Bristol Live that offers for Clarke-Harris, like the rest of his teammates, would have to be considered.
And according to Coughlan, the former Rotherham United striker would not look out of place back in the Championship.
“A lot of managers on the QT and outside the game have asked me and spoken to me about him but no club has come to me and directly asked about Jonson Clarke-Harris,” Coughlan told Bristol Live earlier this year.
“Now, if I’m a manager at a higher level, yes I’d be on the phone looking for Jonson Clarke-Harris because I know what he can do and what he’s all about.”
Comments Coughlan made afterwards about the player’s attitude also bode well. “Two or three weeks ago I didn’t think he was at it so I told him he wasn’t getting any days off,” Coughlan told The Guardian.
“When the rest of the lads were off that week, Jonno had to put up with me. Alun Andrews, our strength and conditioning coach, took us up the gym and we were knocking lumps out of each other with the boxing gloves on, doing some training.
“He then goes out and scores a goal on the Saturday. So I said to him last week he’s not going to have any days off but I gave him one, and he was at the gym again. He wants to put the graft in, the hours in and I’m not going to stop him.”
However, that was not before Coughlan made the following, now ironic, remarks: “I find players move around willy-nilly, they chop and change too quickly, but Jonno has found a home here and people that have his best interests at heart,” he said.
“I just think he’s in a really good place mentally, a great place physically and professionally. I hope he’s settled, he’s enjoying it and he wants to have longevity with both myself and Bristol Rovers.”