Everton manager Roberto Martinez has urged England fans to end their campaign of abuse against Manchester United midfielder Tom Cleverley.
Martinez is a fan of the 24-year-old, who played for him at Wigan after joining on a season’s loan from United in August 2010.
But around 17,000 fans have signed a petition calling for Cleverley to be omitted from England’s squad for this summer’s World Cup finals in Brazil.
The midfielder’s name was booed when it was announced over the public address system before Wednesday’s 1-0 friendly win over Denmark at Wembley.
However, Martinez praised Cleverley’s tactical awareness and technical ability, and believes he is level-headed enough to ride out such public criticism.
The Toffees boss is baffled by the scorn that has been heaped on the England international, who has closed his Twitter account following the launch of the petition.
Martinez told the Guardian: “I don’t understand it. Tom is part of this new generation of outstanding English talent.
“There are only a few players who look as if they could have been brought up in Holland or Spain or France because of their understanding of the game, their tactical awareness and their technical quality. Tom has got that.
“Then as a boy, he has got the perfect temperament. He is a level-headed boy. I just don’t understand this campaign. Tom was maybe given a bigger role than he should have been given but all of a sudden he is being judged like this?
“He’s young. He hasn’t played 200 Premier League games. It’s not his fault. Psychologically you need to be perfect to play in those games and that will affect your preparation.
“But I don’t think it will force him to hide or look away. I think it will be the opposite. He will be motivated to be as good as he can be.”
The petition was created by Glenn McConnell, a Sheffield Wednesday and England fan from Blackpool, Lancashire.
McConnell told BBC Radio Five Live: “The petition is not about banning him from playing for the country, but rather banning him from going to the World Cup. I think we have better options in the centre of the park.
“It is not a personal attack on Tom Cleverley. It is more about the selection process where players of big clubs like Manchester United, Liverpool and Arsenal are favoured over smaller teams.”