ISL 2017: Why Tom Thorpe joined ATK only 3 years after Manchester United debut
Tom Thorpe became ATK's seventh foreign signing yesterday when he joined the two-time Indian Super League champions on a free transfer. The 24-year-old's move to India has been greeted with some surprise by Manchester United and Premier League fans who watched the defender in action for the Red Devils only in 2014.
It was 27th September 2014 when Thorpe was named on the Manchester United bench for the first time by the club's then manager Louis van Gaal, for a game against West Ham United. Although Thorpe's appearance in a United shirt only lasted a minute, it was clear to all that another Academy product would go on to play on the big stage consistently.
Although Thorpe's first and only ever appearance for the United first team came at the expense of Angel di Maria, it wasn't the proverbial passing of baton substitution. Wayne Rooney got himself sent off during the game and with the score at 2-1 in the dying stages, throwing defender Thorpe in the deep end proved to be a successful tactical gamble for Van Gaal as United preserved their odd-goal lead.
That was Thorpe's only ever appearance in a United shirt as his career has spiralled downward since, at least in terms of the clubs he has played for. Although the central defender made the squad that played Everton the following weekend, he was released at the end of the season by the club, who stated on his departure: "Under-21 captain Tom Thorpe, who lifted numerous trophies at youth level during his stay at the club, is free to move on after making more appearances than any of his colleagues for Warren Joyce's title-winning side last term."
Thorpe went on to join Rotherham United in summer 2015 and then was farmed out to Bradford City and Bolton Wanderers while remaining on the books of the Millers. However, it wasn't that Thorpe wasn't doing well at MancUnited.
He captained the Red Devils' U-21 team to the inaugural Under-21 Premier League title in 2012-13. While he made his senior United debut at the age of 21, his subsequent departure was explained by former Stoke City man Danny Higginbotham: "If you get to 22 and you haven’t made some kind of impression or impact then it is time to move on.
“You have to be very careful at a club like United. Timing is everything. Of course, you don’t want to leave. I have seen players stick around until they are 23 or 24 but they have outstayed their welcome and then it is difficult to get a new club."
He further added: "I have watched United Under 21s as a co-commentator for MUTV and seen Tom and he has done well but for whatever reason, the manager has preferred to promote Blackett and McNair."
Van Gaal seemed to give more chances to Thorpe's peers like Tyler Blackett and Paddy McNair during his time at the club, but the subsequent journey for the new ATK signing hasn't been along expected lines.
Since his breakthrough 2014-15 season, Thorpe has only made 39 appearances in two seasons, the last of which saw him lead Bolton Wanderers to promotion into the Championship. Thorpe played 21 times in League One for Bolton last season, but he didn't feature in half of the Trotters' matches.
So, why has it been so difficult for someone like Thorpe, who played at Old Trafford for Manchester United, to be trusted by managers? Injuries have been a bane; Thorpe returned to United twice from his loan spell at Birmingham after suffering damages to his ankle and to add to the irony, it was an injury crisis at Old Trafford that forced Van Gaal to fast-track Thorpe into the first team.
Furthermore, Thorpe has always been seen as a utility backup to first-choice players at whichever club he has been, but that stands to change in the future at ATK. Thorpe will have plenty of familiar faces at the Kolkata outfit; the club's head coach Teddy Sheringham and technical director Ashley Westwood are English and Conor Thomas, Robbie Keane and Jussi Jaaskelainen are teammates who have played extensively in England.
Whether ATK's Tom Thorpe could be any different from the Tom Thorpe we have seen over the years remains to be seen, but if he is free from injuries, Indian football could well witness something that Manchester United missed.