England's new generation owe big debt to Dutch master Meulensteen
When England's plane flies over Holland today en route to Warsaw for tomorrow's World Cup qualifier against Poland, Roy Hodgson should look out of the window and give thanks to a certain Dutchman.
For, the enlightened coaching of Rene Meulensteen, helped enhance the technique of Tom Cleverley and Danny Welbeck. Now assisting Alex Ferguson, Meulensteen was skills development coach at Manchester United's academy from 2001 to 2005.
A disciple of the skill-enriching Coerver Method, Meulensteen encouraged youngsters like Cleverley and Welbeck to express themselves, treating the ball as a friend, enjoying its company and potential.
He had a mantra for the youngsters, wise counsel when he gathered them in the centre-circle of the indoor pitch at Carrington. "You all have the ability," he told them. "But do you have the confidence to play in front of 10,000 people, 20,000, 30,000? Use all your time training.
"Don't waste it. Learn. Train hard, work hard. Take responsibility."
Cleverley and Welbeck increasingly take responsibility. "Rene did a lot of on-the-ball things, as many touches on the ball as you can, very technical work and that's paying off now because we're both comfortable on the ball,'' reflected Cleverley.
United's new breed are pushing through into positions of prominence, as much with country as club. Cleverley (23) has started all four games for Hodgson this season. Welbeck (21) scored twice against San Marino.
"I've been at the club since I was 11," continued Cleverley, "and Danny has been there since nine, so we've built up a relationship, on and off the pitch. I feel comfortable playing with him and he's a good lad as well.
"He's got everything to be a top-class striker: his movement, which he's always working on, his touch, his finishing, pace, power. We've got a great strike force for England and Welbs is part of that."
A certain clubmate is very much part of that. Such is Wayne Rooney's importance to the national cause that Hodgson suggested over the weekend that he could inherit the armband when Steven Gerrard steps down.
"I definitely agree with the manager when he says Wayne can captain in the long term,'' said Cleverley. "He has all the attributes to be a top-class captain: he's a leader, a winner. On Friday, he was quite vocal in the dressing-room. He was chipping in with points, to improve the team. If people need telling, Wazza's not afraid to do that, even in training. If I'm on his team and we're not winning he'll let me know.
"Wayne Rooney has had a lot of experience that me, Welbeck and all the young players in the squad can tap into. He's definitely someone you could go to for advice."
Cleverley has also been fortunate that Ferguson always believed in him, sending him off on loan to sharpen his game-craft. "He's developed me. I trust him with everything.
"I went out on loan to Watford, Wigan Athletic, Leicester and I thoroughly enjoyed it all. But when you're out on loan and see world-class players winning titles at United it does seem a hard mountain to climb. But I'm a big believer that if you work hard enough you can achieve as much as you want.
"I always try to stay grounded. I got a day off on Saturday and just went back to my mum's. I don't want to say I'm completely level-headed but it does annoy me a bit when people say I'm getting ahead of myself.
"Every morning I wake up and think how lucky I am to be playing for the team which all my boyhood heroes played for and for my country." With a little help from Rene Meulensteen.
(© Daily Telegraph, London)