ROBERTO Martinez is looking forward to coming up against the man he considers to be the future of the Manchester United and England midfield this weekend.
And if Tom Cleverley inspires the Reds to a home win at Old Trafford, Martinez will only have himself to blame – having played a key role in his development during a successful season-long loan spell at the DW.
Cleverley made 25 appearances for Latics during 2010-11, helping the side avoid the drop on the last day in such thrilling fashion at Stoke.
Since returning to Old Trafford, Cleverley has not only cemented himself into the United engine room, but also forced his way into Roy Hodgson’s England squad on the back of a solid Olympics for Team GB.
Not that his rise to prominence has shocked anyone at the DW.
“I don’t think many Wigan Athletic fans would have been surprised to have seen Tom step up for England,” Martinez admitted.
“We saw Tom, at 21, fitting in to a team fighting against relegation and you could see then he has the mettle to face any football challenge.
“We saw him performing at his best when we under the biggest pressure imaginable.
“His level of performance and maturity has been incredible – especially since his injury problems last season. To be able to represent England and Manchester United in such a central area is an impressive achievement.”
United were strongly tipped to splash out on a big-name midfielder over the summer, but Sir Alex Ferguson opted to keep his hand in his pocket.
And Martinez believes Cleverley could save him a fortune in the transfer market.
“I have said it before, when he was with us, that Tom’s tactical ability is not normal for a player of his age in this country,” he recognised.
“He is someone who could easily fit into the Dutch or Spanish way of playing quite easily, such is his technical ability and awareness.
“He is a perfect example of how British players can be as good as any others around the world.
“They just need the platform, the environment and the direction to be allowed to express themselves and try to affect games like they can.
“In Spain, and Portugal, and Holland, you are encouraged as a technical player to be yourself on the pitch.
“Here, we seem to encourage our technical players to work harder, to improve their tackling, and we don’t encourage them to find a role within the team that suits them.
“Only the boys who are mentally tough can cope during their development level.
“But we should never forget that there are talented players like Tom in the British game.
“It kills me when I hear people say that as a nation we are not as technically gifted as other nations. That is so wrong.
“The problem is we do not encourage them to have an important role on the pitch. All we seem to do is highlight their weaknesses and try to improve them instead of mastering what they’re good on.”