There are not many English players at clubs in the bottom half of the Premier League who can convince Fabio Capello to venture away from his favourite weekend haunts of Stamford Bridge, Old Trafford, Anfield and Villa Park but then Matt Jarvis is a different kind of talent altogether.
The 24-year-old Wolverhampton Wanderers winger has caught the eye of the England manager and his Italian staff, to the extent that he was on the long list of players for Capello's squad to play the first two Euro 2012 qualifiers against Bulgaria and Switzerland. Since then Capello has even graced Molineux with his presence and saw Jarvis score Wolves' goal in a 2-1 defeat to Aston Villa on 26 September.
Today, Jarvis is in a Wolves team that face Chelsea at Stamford Bridge in a run of games that would bring even the most confident Old Gold fan out in a cold sweat: the sequence is Manchester City, Manchester United and Arsenal in the Premier League and a Carling Cup game next week against United. It will be a tough month for a team already 18th in the table but Jarvis is enjoying every minute.
He is that rare thing, an English footballer in the Premier League who has made his way up the divisions starting at Gillingham seven years ago as a 17-year-old. "I can still remember my first start away at Preston," Jarvis says. "Just before kick-off there was a load of balloons on the pitch. The ref said to me 'Could you just pop that one next to you?' So I went to stamp on it and it blew away. The crowd all cheered. I thought: 'That's a good start to my career'."
It was Jarvis who scored Wolves' goal against West Ham that earned them a 1-1 draw on Saturday. He plays on the left but is naturally right-footed, one of those qualities, along with his pace, that will have brought him to the attention of Capello. Jarvis will have another chance to impress today in front of Capello's general manager Franco Baldini, who will be at Stamford Bridge, but – without a win since the start of the season – there are greater priorities for the side at the moment. Since Danny Murphy's outspoken criticism of Wolves' approach to games – and Karl Henry's controversial challenges on Bobby Zamora and Jordi Gomez – there has been a focus on them that the club are unaccustomed to. But they have also played some decent football despite their position and Jarvis, bought from Gillingham in 2007, has been one of the club's success stories.
On the tackling debate, Jarvis says that the issue "has been blown out of proportion. It was after the Newcastle game [on 28 August] and there were a number of players who got booked [12, seven from Wolves]. A lot has been made of it. A lot of tackles were there to be won and I don't think anyone would class any of them intent or foul play.
"If you see the game against West Ham last weekend everyone was saying how well we played and what a good game of football it was. There were no reckless challenges. There were no yellow cards [for Wolves]. It was one of those things, a spur of the moment thing and everyone has been jumping on the bandwagon. Once you get labelled with it, it is hard to shake off and that is what has happened."
Jarvis says that as a creative player himself he has never had reason to be concerned by the approach of his Wolves team-mates or Henry in particular. "Although it wasn't a great challenge against Wigan [on Gomez] because of what happened before it has been made even worse and he is not that sort of player. You see him last season and the start of this season and he has not been like that at all. He gets into challenges and breaks play up but he's not a dirty player at all.
"It is noticeable now that even if it is a normal challenge [from a Wolves player] it has been blown up. After the performance against West Ham when there were no ridiculous tackles going in and no stupid yellow cards I think hopefully it will calm down. It was big this month and something else will be big next month."
As we sit in one of the annexes at Wolves' training ground, every one of Jarvis's team-mates who wanders by affects a groan when they recognise that the club's new golden boy is the interview subject. "Ask him about the ping-pong," shouts one of the fitness coaches. "Or the cross-country. Or the swimming."
As a teenager growing up in Guildford in Surrey, Jarvis was of those kids who excelled at just about everything. He got the sporting gene from his parents, Nick and Linda, who both reached the English No 1 rankings in table tennis. Linda won the European mixed doubles title with Desmond Douglas and between them they encouraged Matt and his brother Ben, who were both at Millwall as teenagers, to do as much sport as possible.
As a result Jarvis was Surrey breaststroke champion for four years running. He was also the county's cross-country champion and represented the country in European championships. He won county titles in the 800m and 1,500m. "I never used to do the sprints," he said. "I don't know why for the life of me, it would have been so much better." He competed in biathlons. He was not bad at table tennis either.
"Monday was swimming. Tuesday was football and if I got back in time, swimming again. Wednesday was athletics or cross country. Thursdays was football and swimming. Friday was swimming. Saturday was football then swimming. And then on Sunday it depended if I had played on Saturday for the [Millwall] Under-17s or Under-19s. If I had played then I would have swimming on Saturday night. If I didn't play all of the Saturday game I would play in my own age group on the Sunday. And then swimming again on Sunday night.
"Every weekend was someone's birthday and there would be a party on the Saturday night. I would turn up late just stinking of chlorine having come straight from the swimming gala. I wouldn't have swapped it for anything. I loved it. Enjoyed every minute. I loved the competing and I don't feel I have missed out on anything. I used to go out with my mates whenever I could. If they went out drinking I would drive."
It was an exhausting schedule yet along the way he somehow managed to get one A, four Bs and five C grades at GCSE. He was rejected by Millwall as a 16-year-old but immediately picked up by Gillingham where the manager at the time, Andy Hessenthaler, proved a big influence. He was signed by Wolves three years ago and won promotion to the Premier League in his second season. The new five-year deal he signed at the start of the season is testament to the value the club place in him.
Jarvis cites his parents as a major influence. As well as endlessly driving him from one sporting event to the next, he also learned to play sport for the sheer love of it. Even as elite table-tennis players there is not much of a living playing the game but Jarvis says his father Nick taught him from an early age that the money was not the priority.
"My dad has always said you concentrate on working hard and playing well and don't worry about the money. If you are good enough the money will come. I have worked all the way through from Millwall, Gillingham to Wolves and I am trying to learn and work hard now.
"My dad had to retire at a younger age and I have never seen them play live. I have seen my dad play just knocking around but I have only seen one video of him in a game and a few newspaper clippings. There is no footage of my mum. Table tennis wasn't even in the Olympics back then."
It promises to be a tough four weeks for Wolves against the biggest clubs in the division. But then these games against the best offer an opportunity to a promising young player. "If you are not in the top bracket it is hard to get noticed [by England]," Jarvis says. "We have a great squad and if you play well against one of the big teams then you maybe get noticed more.
"It is everyone's dream to play for their country and it would be absolutely fantastic but I don't want to tempt fate. The people [who play] in my position are all young. There are a lot of players who might think about it after this tournament [Euro 2012] when it will be a whole new up-and-coming team, which will be exciting."
For now it is enough, Jarvis says, to be playing every week for Wolves. They have the experience of one season in the Premier League to guard against being intimidated by the opposition over the next few weeks. And for their man of the moment the next few weeks present quite an opportunity.
My other life
I suppose I watch a lot of telly. I love the The Inbetweeners but they are half-an-hour episodes and they go so quick. I am into all the series: House, Fringe, Bones, Entourage, The Mentalist.Reuse content