He may only be 20, but Jack Cork’s professional career to date has seen more clubs than many players will see in a career. With six loan spells at five different clubs outside the top flight, the England Under-21 international has patiently bided his time and on transfer deadline day finally got his crack at the Premier League. In spending the next five months at Burnley, he will go a long way to determining his own future, and where it may be.
After turning out for Bournemouth (twice), Scunthorpe (where he was the club’s young player of the 07/08 season), Southampton, Watford and most recently Coventry, Jack returned to Cobham in early January without an extension at the Ricoh Arena. He was widely expected to stay with Chris Coleman’s boys until the end of the season, but the signing of Gary Deegan left his position in some limbo. With no great guarantee that he would hold onto his first team place, and some differences in the potential finances of the deal, all that was left was to head back to London. Reserve action followed against Wolves – indeed, a rare sight to see Jack in Chelsea blue – before his deadline day jaunt back off to another new club.
Except it’s different this time. Every test put in front of the Carshalton-born youngster has been passed with flying colours, and he now faces another. Captaining the youth team as a schoolboy, playing for the reserves at seventeen, representing England at every youth level – you can check them all. He has excelled in Leagues Two and One, and proven himself more than good enough to play in the Championship. To be perfectly blunt, he was ready for a crack at the top level at the start of the year, but for one reason or another he didn’t get that chance. Burnley showed some interest, and despite a change of manager, they still showed a great enthusiasm to take him to Turf Moor.
Now Jack, the son of former Wimbledon striker Alan Cork, gets to show he can play in what some believe is the best league in the world. To begin with, he’ll need to get into the Clarets’ first team. So far this season, Owen Coyle and Brian Laws have opted to use Andre Bikey in an achoring role in midfield, with the experienced Wade Elliot and Graham Alexander alongside him. Elliot has been an ever-present in the league, Alexander was until Saturday’s game against Chelsea, and Bikey has missed just three games due to the African Nations Cup. Jack can of course play at right-back or centre-back as well as his preferred midfield role, but Tyrone Mears has also played in every league outing, whilst Leon Cort had an impressive debut alongside captain Clarke Carlisle, so he is unlikely to make ground there.
It’ll be a tough ask to break into a well-drilled team battling relegation, but Cork’s game of patient, intelligent football, showcasing a footballing brain with a good level of technical ability has served him well to this point, and he will be ambitious about getting into the team. He spoke of his delight at getting the chance to step up a level on the official Burnley website earlier this week.
If he can get into the team and become a key part of their fight for another year in the Premier League, it could be exactly what he needs to get his shot at Stamford Bridge. Juliano Belletti is out of contract this coming summer and talk of him returning to Brazil to join Flamengo have been rife in recent weeks. Should the cult hero of the Bridge masses depart, an opening for something of a utility player will open up, and Jack will no doubt be eyeing that role. Whilst he doesn’t possess the flair Belletti does, he does match his versatility, and with league regulations set to place a premium on club and nation developed talent, he will be fighting for a squad place with Michael Mancienne, who has also shown the ability to play in midfield since the turn of the year.
Whatever happens, it’s a turning point in the fledgling career of a talented youngster. He doesn’t turn 21 until the summer, but by the time he does reach that milestone, we’re likely to know a lot more about his career and whether he’ll be a Chelsea player for real. If history is anything to go by, it could be a safe bet.