I lacked ambition as a player but not as a coach – Cleverley

BBC Sport finds out what drives interim Watford manager Tom Cleverley, the former Manchester United and England midfielder.


Tom Cleverley is not daunted by the names of discarded Watford managers that litter the club’s recent history.

The former Manchester United, Watford and England midfielder has been in charge for seven games since interim boss Valerien Ismael was sacked in March.

Ismael’s exit left the club looking for their 11th head coach since 2018 and eighth since the end of the 2020-21 season.

Of Watford’s past 10 bosses, only Ismael and Xisco Munoz stayed in the job for longer than 30 games.

Cleverley is 34 and only retired last year. He keeps tangible reminders of his football career at home in his office like his Premier League title medal and 11 England caps – the other two are with his mum and dad.

Others are stored in his head; 379 senior appearances for six clubs, 35 goals. Olympic memories from 2012.

But it is not enough. It gnaws away at him. It is why he was fully prepared when he took over as Watford Under-18s boss last summer after giving up the battle with his body.

Senior figures at the Championship club could see the impact Cleverley was having. It made him the automatic choice as interim boss and now a strong contender for the permanent role.

“There is a lot of unfinished business from my playing career,” he explains in an interview with BBC Sport. “That drives me forward with my coaching. It motivates me every day.

“I didn’t achieve anything in the Champions League with Manchester United. The title we lost to City. I came to Watford when they were in the Premier League. I retired as a player with them in the Championship. None of it sits right.

“I left a few out there as a player. I probably lacked ambition. But as a coach I am very ambitious.”

Cleverley has not been short of big-name advice.

When he got the Watford Under-18s job, former boss Sir Alex Ferguson was soon in touch.

“He gave me a couple of great pieces of advice about on-field coaching, but the main thing I take away from him is man-management,” said Cleverley. “Football is not just about 11 players. You need harmony from a full squad. He was a genius at doing that.”

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