Cleverley marks return with poignant winning volley
So committed was Watford’s Tom Cleverley to his injury rehabilitation that he took a member of the club’s medical staff with him on his family holiday to Barbados.
The former Manchester United and Everton midfielder missed 11 months of football with an Achilles tendon injury but is back playing and scored a wonderful winning goal here on Saturday.
“It’s been a really tough 11 months for me with the injury, the surgery and then the long rehab. But that moment makes the long road back worth it and all the hard work has paid off,” Cleverley said.
“It makes you appreciate the game more massively. There were some real low points when I felt as though I had no purpose.
“I know people have far worse problems out there, but when you are a footballer coming back from injury, it takes over your life,” he said.
“Apart from my family, my job is the most important thing to me and when you can’t do it, you haven’t really got any targets or goals in life.
“It’s tough mentally. I’m not the only footballer to go through it and I won’t be the last. I think pre- surgery was the hardest as I just didn’t know when the problem would get better.”
Cleverley’s work is not finished yet. Watford are riding high in seventh position and he faces a tough battle to dislodge either Etienne Capoue or Abdoulaye Doucoure from the centre of midfield.
But the 29-year-old, who has been capped 13 times by England, is simply grateful to have the necessary fitness to be available for selection for Javi Gracia’s side.
He is also thankful for his teammates’ support. “They have been a massive support to me,” Cleverley said. “Some players like to go away from their clubs to do their rehab, but I stayed in and around the lads and I needed that.
“It was nice to see their reaction after the goal – we’ve got a really good team spirit. “I’ve just got to keep doing the right things and, even though I’m back fit now, I’ve got to be patient because the lads [playing] in my position have been doing fantastically. We want to prove a lot of people wrong, kick on again and go on a run to finish as high as we possibly can.”
The win at Selhurst Park, with Craig Cathcart atoning for an earlier own goal by equalising before Cleverley added the winner, means Watford have now equalled their best top-flight away record of four successive games unbeaten.
The timing of Cleverley’s goal, coinciding with the second anniversary of the death of Graham Taylor, made the moment all the more poignant for the club.
“He remains a massive figure here,” Cleverley said. “I only met him a couple of times, but it’s a proud moment for me to score the winner on a day like that.”
The result leaves Crystal Palace four points above the Premier League bottom three but Roy Hodgson is not confident he can bring a player to the club this month who is good enough to make an immediate impact.
“I’m realistic,” the Palace manager said. “There’s no point in me ranting and raving at the chairman or director of football, saying, ‘Where is this player?’ The fact is, if I was in their position, I don’t know where he is either.” Hats off to our hero of the weekend, Kazuyoshi Miura, the world’s oldest active professional footballer. He has just signed a new contract extension with Yokohama FC at the ripe old age of 51. Miura (below) was playing for Santos in Brazil all the way back in 1986, which was six years before Sky invented football.