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Tom Cleverley ready to step up and lead Watford back to Prem if Troy Deeney seals transfer exit

TOM CLEVERLEY spent the summer in a bad mood.

But he has now got itchy feet to turn back the years for Watford this season.

The midfielder, 31, was one of the many Hornets stalwarts to  suffer as the club returned to the Championship for the first time in five years.

Even Cleverley, who is enjoying his third stint at Watford over an 11-year period, admits he gave up on survival when Aston Villa beat Arsenal on the penultimate day.

Ahead of tonight’s opener against Middlesbrough, he said: “The first couple of weeks were hard.


“It was my first relegation so I had never felt anything like that before. I was pretty annoyed to say the least.

“But the short break has helped me and the rest of the squad get over that hangover. We footballers like a good break but personally I’m really happy it was a shorter one.

“We could have dwelt on last season’s disappointment for too long and then ‘bang’ you lose focus on what’s ahead.

“I accepted we were down when Villa beat Arsenal. We had one game to play and we could have stayed up but that’s when I started getting my head around the prospect of relegation.

“I wasn’t the happiest man in the world that’s for sure. That sort of season takes its toll on you.

“We lost on the opening day and from there we were in a relegation battle.

“I know we are paid a lot of money but that stress is more than anyone can imagine.”

It was my first relegation so I had never felt anything like that before.

That stress is now gone from Cleverley’s mind but there is still a bone to pick with himself regarding his shooting boots.

Since returning in January 2017 and signing permanently that summer — after  an initial loan spell in 2009-10 — the former Manchester United midfielder has netted just three times.

In that 2009-10 campaign, also in the Championship, Cleverley was named Watford player of the season with 11 goals to his name.

The Old Trafford academy graduate is not one to look back but he admits that is the type of goal-scoring performance he needs.

He added: “I am the first one to say I have been disappointed with my goal return since then.

“You don’t want a small-club mentality but it will be a nice change dominating the ball in the Championship — as well as not having to play Manchester City twice a season.

“This year I will be making more forward runs. I am a good finisher still.”

Cleverley is part of an experienced core at Vicarage Road who give the club a real chance of jumping straight back up.

However, some of those experienced faces could yet move on this summer under the new reign of Vladimir Ivic.

Abdoulaye Doucoure has gone to one of Cleverley’s old clubs Everton while skipper Troy Deeney appears to be unsettled.

While Cleverley would love his old mate to stay, he is prepared to stand up should the armband become vacant.

He said: “I captained the side during our pre-season friendly against Tottenham and I really enjoyed that responsibility. I would be ready if asked.”

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