It is exactly a month ago that I was one of three reporters talking to Tom Cleverley about his future and the prospects of him staying at Aston Villa when his loan spell came to an end.
He’d just scored his third goal in as many games to clinch the 1-0 win over West Ham which ultimately turned out to be the match that preserved the club’s Premier League status. And down in the mixed zone area near the dressing rooms at Villa Park he was bubbling with enthusiasm about all the good things Tim Sherwood had done for his game.
“You have to be playing at a club where you fit in, where you are playing in the position where you want to play, and where you like the manager and the lads that you are playing with,” he said. “This club ticks all of those boxes for me.”
I tried to offer him a bit of leeway by suggesting that as a professional his decision about where to go once his Manchester United contract finished would also have to be guided by the money on offer.
He looked me in the eyes. “I don’t think any Premier League players are going to be short of a quid or two – you have just got to be happy and enjoying your football, and that’s how I feel at this club,” he said.
I couldn’t get the conversation out of my head yesterday as I saw him sitting on the bench in Dublin, back in the England squad, but lined up to be an Everton player. For Sherwood and Villa he has suddenly become a symbol of lost opportunity.
Betfair’s markets back Sherwood’s promise that after finishing 17th Villa will never be involved in a frantic scramble for survival again. They are [5.2] to be relegated. But things have to change dramatically for that to be justified.
In three weeks that followed that West Ham game, Villa were thrashed 6-1 at Southampton, lost at home to Burnley, and then never turned up for an FA Cup Final. Cleverley clearly thought twice about the future. And the big worry for the creaking old Midlands giant is that other players have the same worries.
Read the gossip columns this morning and it appears that Wolves winger Bakary Sako is going to Leicester on a £50,000 a week contract rather than take less at Villa Park. Newcastle are favourites to sign Charlie Austin from QPR, another player Sherwood has been heavily linked with.
Then there are the worrying signs from Christian Benteke, himself silent about his future while he’s on international duty with Belgium, but with smoke signals form his agent suggesting he’s keen to move on to a Champions League club. He’s even money to stay or go on the Benteke to transfer market.
Sherwood did a fantastic job after taking over from Paul Lambert, but this is a massive summer for him. His time in charge at Tottenham was all too brief, so it’s the first time he’s had to handle recruitment and reshaping a squad in a summer window. And he’s got to do it against a background of uncertainty of whether owner Randy Lerner is about to walk away.
Cleverley’s U-turn on his future must have felt like a hammer blow – the worst possible way to start the process. The end of a bad month – but it’s the next month that will tell us whether Villa really can plot a path forward or if only another fight for survival lies ahead.