By Brian Doogan
Ciaran Clark emphasised his pride and ambition, the deep sense of collective purpose within the Villa team and the competition for places that is driving the 23-year-old defender and his team-mates into the forthcoming season having agreed a new three-year deal to 2016.
The Republic of Ireland international, who has captained Villa teams from youth to first team level, extolled the leadership qualities of manager Paul Lambert and the enthusiasm and eagerness he has instilled in his players through the early part of pre-season.
Lambert has signed six players during this transfer window - defenders Jores Okore and Antonio Luna, midfield players Leandro Bacuna and Aleksander Tonev, striker Nicklas Helenius as well as goalkeeper Jed Steer - while last season's player of the year Brad Guzan and Clark's fellow Academy graduates Andi Weimann and Nathan Baker have also agreed new deals this summer, along with midfield lynchpin Ashley Westwood.
The mood within the camp, Clark enthused, is "vibrant" and the keen anticipation of the coming season has everyone "working as hard as we can" to be uppermost in the manager's thoughts come the first game of the Barclays Premier League campaign on August 17 at Arsenal.
"Everyone's at the stage now where we just want to get out and play and the competition for places is tougher than it's been these past few seasons, no doubt about that," Clark said.
"The players who have come in have integrated into the squad really well with the training camp in Germany helping immensely in terms of bonding and getting down to work. Everyone's really keen to really get on with it now. We're looking forward to giving our all and fighting for our spot in the team. There's definitely a vibrant feeling within the camp and a real desire to push on and keep building.
"We feel like we have very strong foundations in place. The last couple of seasons we've had some ups and downs and we've always stuck together and supported one another, whatever's happened. We'll continue to do that and that's what will continue to help us to progress together as a team.
"The manager has also been superb in instilling confidence and ambition, a real desire to succeed for the Club and we're all hungry to achieve something here.
"From a personal point of view, I really couldn't be more delighted or more proud. I've been here since I was 12 years old, progressing from the younger teams through the youth team along with players such as Marc Albrighton, Barry Bannan and another couple who have just signed new deals in Nathan Baker and Andi Weimann. It's great that we've all managed to come through together and there's a bond there with this Club that's as close as family to us lads especially.
"From a young age, Villa has had a deep impact on my life and I've been taught proper values here by the people such as Bryan Jones, Kevin MacDonald, Gordon Cowans, Tony McAndrew, Steve Burns and so many others who have been involved in the Academy set-up. We're taught well here, we're taught the right way, the attitude is top drawer and all the lads have taken that into the first team or to whatever other club or whatever walk of life they've chosen. We've been taught to work hard, to give our all always and to demonstrate the right morals in terms of politeness and the way we behave on and off the field, all of which is really important.
"It's what every young lad dreams about, to be able to play for a club like Aston Villa. I've had the honour of captaining the team from youth level right through to the first team and to receive that honour last season was massive for me, a moment I'll never forget.
"This season will be another tough challenge but we have the players and we have a good young squad, everyone is hungry for it, we're working as hard as we can and we can't wait to start."
Clark captained Villa's Under-18 side to the Premier Academy League title in 2007-08 and the reserves to the Premier Reserve League title in 2008-09.
He captained the first team for the first time against Stoke City at Villa Park in the 2012-13 season, taking the armband when Gabby Agbonlahor was substituted.
The 23-year-old defender has appeared 75 times for Villa in all competitions and scored six goals, including memorable strikes against Chelsea in January 2011 and against Tottenham in May 2012, as well as a brace against Arsenal in November 2010.
Last season he played 35 times in all competitions for Villa and scored once, a header against Newcastle at St. James' Park.
Born in Harrow to Irish parents, Clark has played six times for Ireland having made his debut against Wales in February 2011.
He scored his first international goal in a friendly against Poland in February 2013, stabbing the ball home following a save from Polish goalkeeper Artur Boruc.
From 1998, the year that the Premier League's Academy system was established, through to the 2010-11 season, some 145 players have come through the Aston Villa Academy.
Of these, 51.7% have played in the Premier League, the Football League or a top league overseas or remained in the Academy.
Some 17.2% have played in the Premier League alone and 26.2% in the Football League or a top European league. In the same period Villa has helped produce 15 full internationals, as well as many more underage internationals.
Aston Villa secured Category One status for our Academy last year following an independent audit of the Club's youth development programmes, which forms part of the Barclays Premier League Elite Player Performance Plan (EPPP).
In addition to achieving the highest status of the EPPP, the Aston Villa Academy has also emerged as the No.1 ranked Academy in the country.
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