Opinion: Heaton's coming home
It could be argued that when Academy footballers leave the club, they may no longer be Manchester United players but they remain Manchester United people.
Tom Heaton fits squarely in this category. Somebody brought up at Carrington and infused with the club’s values, he made the difficult decision, way back in 2010, to reject a new contract in order to obtain the first-team football he craved.
It must be the most heart-wrenching of calls for anybody so immersed in the United ethos and culture, but it is a brave one and this is something that is obviously replicated a number of times every single summer. Yet, when these homegrown Reds leave, they never truly leave.
A connection remains. Coaches and staff are always available for support and advice, and the pride in any individual success away from the club genuinely reverberates around the building. Everybody loves to see one of our own doing well.
Heaton’s progress after his departure included making a senior England debut in a warm-up for Euro 2016, against Australia at Sunderland’s Stadium of Light. This was one of three caps he has earned for his country and each was greeted with enthusiasm and a sense of fulfilment from all that accompanied him on even a small part of the journey.
Much of this achievement was down to a tremendous work ethic, allied to his natural talent. Appreciating the application required to make it to the top, his efforts on the training ground illustrate why he has been a key figure at all his clubs.
Furthermore, he has become a leader. Captaining Burnley under Sean Dyche, he was a vocal figure; earning maximum respect and always being a positive presence around the changing room and on the pitch. England quickly recognised his character, with The FA website stating: “His infectious attitude to training and support for his squad-mates quickly made him a popular member of the squad.”
Anybody who has spent even the shortest amount of time in Tom’s company will give a knowing nod to such a testimonial. This was never more apparent than in the mixed zone after a game during one of United’s journeys to Turf Moor, when his warmth and sincerity became blindingly obvious when dealing with the media and the United staff he recognised from his time here.
So we know Tom Heaton is a top character as well as a top goalkeeper. He understands the club after spending 13 years here. There is no question he will quickly integrate into the group and settle swiftly, being a positive influence and pushing not only himself but the other keepers in training. In terms of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s cultural reboot, he fits the bill perfectly.
In short, his arrival on a free transfer is, effectively, a no-brainer for all concerned. Tom is coming home and Manchester United will be the main beneficiaries in the long term.
The opinions in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Manchester United Football Club.