The Millwall reject who has won his country's backing
Matt Jarvis's work ethic saw him overcome failure and reach the England squad. Sam Wallace speaks to those behind his rise
When Matt Jarvis walks out to train with Fabio Capello's England squad for the first time today it will be another step in the long journey he has taken in football from rejection at Millwall and relegation with Gillingham to League One, to the elite of the English game alongside Wayne Rooney and Frank Lampard.
There are some players in the England squad, fast-tracked from Premier League academies, who have never played outside the top flight, and then there are a few, such as Jarvis, who turns 25 in May, who have had to do it the hard way. The pitches at Arsenal's training ground this morning will seem a long way from his two seasons in League One, playing at the likes of Brentford, Rotherham and Yeovil Town.
He was part of the Gillingham team relegated from the Championship in 2005 on goal difference and it would be another two seasons until Wolverhampton Wanderers, then in the Championship, signed him for £600,000. A late developer might best describe Jarvis' progress from League One to England team in the space of less than four years, but those close to him say it has nothing to do with luck.
A schoolboy sporting all-rounder who was at one point the reigning Surrey champion in the 50m and 100m breaststroke as well as – on the track – the 1500m, he also managed one A, four Bs and five C grades at GCSE. "Matthew is very, very determined," his father Nick said yesterday. "He has known what he has wanted since the age of eight. As for his schoolwork, he did a lot of it in the car on the way to matches or races."
Now in his second season as a Premier League footballer with Wolverhampton Wanderers, Jarvis' untypical career path began when he was released at the age of 16 by Millwall who had also rejected his brother Ben, three years older. It is a point in many young footballers' careers when they can drift out of the game.
"It was a difficult time for Matthew and we wondered what to do," Nick told The Independent. "We didn't get a lot of help because once you get rejected by a club they don't really take any further interest in you. Eventually one of the Millwall coaches spoke to Gillingham about Matthew and he went there to train.
"They looked at him and offered him a place on the youth training scheme and as soon as he signed he was really flying. When he was 17 they gave him a professional contract. Matthew had realised that he didn't want to miss out on being a footballer. Ever since then he has tried his hardest to be as good as he can possibly be. His brother had three operations in his knee and had to pack it in. That had an effect on Matthew."
At Gillingham, Jarvis came under the guidance of player-manager Andy Hessenthaler, then in his first stint in charge of the club. Hessenthaler, who rejoined Gillingham as manager last summer, said that as soon as Jarvis arrived he was identified by the youth team coach Darren Hare as a player who had the potential to go a long way.
"He always had that pace to get behind the full-back," Hessenthaler told The Independent yesterday. "Now he has the quality to cross a very good ball in as well. That was what was missing in the early days. That is all about growing up and progressing. He is a top lad and what has happened to him won't faze him. He won't change as a person. He has a lovely family who come to watch him everywhere.
"With the England players, nine times out of 10 they have come through a Premier League academy and been given a pro contract. Look at Jack Wilshere – he has come through that system. Matt has come through at a lower level but any player in those divisions looking at his career can see that it can be done if you work hard enough."
It would be more than three years after his debut as a 17-year-old for Gillingham against Sunderland in November 2003 that Jarvis's chairman Paul Scally would predict that the winger would play for England before the age of 24. Scally's prediction is looking, give or take 12 months, remarkably accurate.
Jarvis's father Nick says much of the credit should go to Hessenthaler and youth team coach Kevin Bremner for Matt's development into a player who has thrived against some of the best teams in the Premier League this season. Operating on the left wing despite being right-footed, he played a key role in the defeat of Manchester United in February. His goal against Aston Villa on Saturday showed a new aspect to his game.
Jarvis comes from a sporting family – his parents Nick and Linda were England international table tennis players who were both No 1 in their respective national rankings for a period in the 1970s. Nick, 57, was part of the English team that won a silver medal at the European championships in 1978. Three years earlier Linda had won the European doubles title with partner Jill Parker.
Nick is about to take up a new role as the national junior coach for the English table tennis association and, having travelled to the Millennium Stadium on Saturday, will be in Derby the following day to watch a table tennis tournament. His son may not have followed him into the sport but Jarvis junior will certainly pose a threat to the amateur table tennis enthusiasts among the England squad, providing they can find a table to play him on.
"The money in table tennis is nowhere near what it is in football but then the dedication required to succeed in any sport is very high," Nick said. "In an individual sport like table tennis you have to put the hours in. In football you cannot practise on your own for six hours but you have to be committed.
"I would say that Matthew's ability hasn't been the main thing in his success, it has been his determination and commitment. Now that he has worked hard and has more confidence his natural ability is shining through. He has trained so hard over the years and believes in what he can do. He might not have got there as quickly as some players who were superstars at 19, 20, but now he is getting the rewards."
Jarvis' Wolves manager Mick McCarthy said his winger would be a "breath of fresh air" when he joins up with the England squad, the first current Wolves player to do so for more than 21 years ago since Steve Bull's last international cap against Poland at Wembley in October 1990. "To be called up by England shows how much he has improved," McCarthy said. "He is a threat, whoever he plays against."
Having followed his former player's career closely, Hessenthaler said that Jarvis's most effective use of his blistering pace is his habit of slowing down and then speeding up again to shake off the full-back. "He has that desire to make something happen on the pitch and affect the game," Hessenthaler said. "I am over the moon for him but I am not surprised at what he has achieved in the game. He has the talent and he works hard."
As for Jarvis, he said yesterday that he would not be taking anything for granted. "I've just got to concentrate on doing as well as I can in training and seeing if I can impress to get some time on the pitch," he said. It is another step up for him in a career that has had many, but given his track record thus far you would not bet against him making a success of it.
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