ROBERTO Martinez has backed Team GB to hit the ground running tonight and get the Olympic Games off to a swashbuckling start.
And he believes two players he helped propel to stardom could well turn out to be the driving force behind their campaign.
Team GB open up against Senegal at Old Trafford (8pm), with former Latics loanee Tom Cleverley expected to start in central midfield.
And Martinez is confident the Manchester United man can help set the tone in the engine room as Stuart Pearce’s charges attempt to get off to a flyer.
“It’s great to see someone like Tom, who we all saw develop with us, getting his chance on the big stage,” Martinez told the Evening Post.
“For him to have been picked by Team GB is a tremendous achievement, and he fully deserves everything that comes his way.
“I think Tom is in for a good tournament, and I really feel Team GB has as good a chance as any team of doing well at this Olympic Games.
“They haven’t played together much but they are all talented players, many with Premier League experience, and I don’t think it’ll be a problem for them to perform well.
“Probably Brazil are the team to beat. I certainly don’t think Spain are as balanced as they have been at other big tournaments, and definitely Team GB have a chance.”
Cleverley could find himself lining up in the midfield alongside Joe Allen [pictured inset], the young Swansea man who has been linked with a big-money move to Liverpool this summer after a stunning debut campaign in the Premier League.
The Wigan boss knows all about Allen, who made his debut for the Swans during Martinez’s spell in charge at the Liberty Stadium.
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“Obviously I gave Joe his debut at Swansea at 16, and since then he has developed into a top, top footballer,” Martinez added.
“He is a played who will get even better as he gets older and stronger, but his tactical awareness is already there.
“He’s still very young, but sometimes you need to put players in a position where they will be challenged - and Joe reached that point very early in his development.
“Whatever the challenge, Joe always finds a way to be himself, because he has a tactical knowledge and awareness that allows him to do that.
“He is capable of being anything he wants to be, and I have been so proud of the way he has matured as a footballer.
“It’ll be exciting for Team GB to have such a strong character and a winner in the middle of the park.
“He is very, very similar in terms of mentality to Tom Cleverley, and both are perfect examples of allowing young players who have the talent to thrive.”
After tonight’s opener, Team GB play the UAE at Wembley on Sunday before taking on Uruguay at the Millennium Stadium next Wednesday.
Maynor Figueroa and Honduras get their campaign going with a clash against Morocco at Hampden Park this lunchtime, ahead of games against Spain and Japan.
BLOB Latics are also in action tonight, taking on Bulgarian outfit Botev Plovdiv in the second match of their Austrian tour, at the Pichi bei Wels, Winkelfeld.
Full match details and reaction will appear in tomorrow’s Evening Post.