Defender Matthew Clarke will spend a second successive campaign at Derby County after completing the formalities on a season-long loan deal from Premier League side Brighton & Hove Albion, subject to EFL clearance.
Clarke, 23, spent the entire 2019/20 campaign on loan at Pride Park Stadium from the Seagulls and his impressive showings saw him crowned as the Jack Stamps Player of the Season in July.
It was his third Player of the Season accolade in as many seasons, having won the award in back-to-back seasons at Portsmouth prior to joining Brighton.
The central-back enjoyed a fine campaign for Derby, making 37 appearances in all competitions and scoring one goal.
His single goal came in a 1-0 home victory over Hull City in January of this year, but it was his consistent performances at the back which saw him become a popular figure amongst supporters.
After impressing on his debut in a 2-1 opening day victory over Huddersfield Town at the John Smith’s Stadium last August, Clarke established himself as a key player at the heart of the defence.
Whilst he had to adapt his game to suit the style manager Phillip Cocu wanted his side to play, he remained solid and consistent in his performances.
Clarke, who has made over 200 appearances in club football, will now spend the second successive season with Derby and further adds to the defensive options for Cocu to call upon.
Reacting to Clarke’s return, Cocu said: “I am extremely pleased that we have got Matt Clarke back after the great season he had with us.
“Especially in the second half of last season, he was excellent and the progress he made was huge after he had to adapt to a new way of playing with us.”
He added: “I am extremely pleased to have Matt as a player, but also as a character back in the team and it will be great to see him in the Derby shirt again.”
Clarke began his career with Ipswich Town and came through the youth ranks at Portman Road. He made his professional debut in August 2014, in the EFL Cup against Crawley Town, before signing his first professional contract a month later.
The defender linked up with Portsmouth, then in League 2, on loan in August 2015 to gain further first-team experience and he went on to spend the entire 2015/16 campaign at Fratton Park, before signing on a permanent basis in the summer of 2016.
Clarke was an influential figure in the Portsmouth side that claimed the League 2 title in 2016/17, with the defender making 36 appearances in all competitions as they recorded the best defensive record in the division.
He, and Pompey, quickly adapted to life in League 1 as they finished in 8th place in 2017/18. Portsmouth went one step further in 2018/19 as they claimed a top six spot and reached the play-off semi-finals, while they were also the winners of the Checkatrade Trophy Final against Sunderland at Wembley Stadium.
Clarke’s performances and influence, despite his young age, saw him wear the captain’s armband for Pompey. His move to the top-flight was secured last summer as he became Graham Potter’s first signing at Brighton & Hove Albion for an undisclosed fee.