Tom Cleverley: Why Manchester United Midfielder Is Natural Heir to Paul Scholes
Having come out of retirement to solve manager Sir Alex Ferguson's midfield dilemma, the 37-year-old Scholes has made a huge impact both on and off the field for United, and has further established himself as one of football's greatest passing maestros.
But with his contract and subsequent second retirement set for the end of the season, the Red Devils need a player to attempt to replace his influence on the game.
That player looks set to be Cleverley, and here's why.
Paul Scholes Was Tom Cleverley in 1995
Back in the 1994-95 season, a young Paul Scholes made his breakthrough in the Manchester United first-team, making 10 starts and 15 substitute appearances in all competitions.
He watched from the bench, studied in training and occasionally studied the established midfield stars, such as Paul Ince, Brain McClair, Mark Hughes and Roy Keane, in matches
And the following campaign, when Ince controversially left for Inter Milan, Hughes left for Chelsea and McClair found his playing time increasingly limited, Scholes became a much more important part of the team and repaid his manager's faith with 14 goals overall.
It was Sir Alex Ferguson's policy of gradually incorporating young talents into the first-team—keeping them hungry and determined for more and more chances—which saw the young Scholes become a star and establish himself as a mainstay in the team's midfield.
And it helped David Beckham, Nicky Butt, Gary Neville and Ryan Giggs before him, as the second wave of Fergie's Fledgings became club stars.
Fast forward to this season, and the same is happening with Tom Cleverley, along with Danny Welbeck and purchased youngsters like Chris Smalling, Phil Jones and Nick Powell.
Having been limited to just 15 appearances last season (mainly thanks to injury), Sir Alex is giving Cleverley that bigger number of games, with the 23-year-old having made seven already this term.
As Scholes re-enters the retirement phase of his career, Cleverley is being given more and more experience.
And just like when the young Scholes replaced Ince, as United's history shows, the youngster will eventually take over for the master.
He Plays Like Scholes
In terms of his natural game, nobody at Manchester United is a better fit to be the next Paul Scholes than Tom Cleverley.
Cleverley is a player who looks for the incisive pass and seems to know when a winger or forward is making the right run, and he usually always knows the right time to play it to them.
The young midfielder hits more forward passes than any of his teammates across the middle, barring Scholes, and like the United legend in his early days, Cleverley is often played as the attacking midfielder or as a playmaking winger—especially for England—thanks to his passing style.
And like Scholes, he's also a player aware of his need to contribute defensively, and has proven so with his capability to track back by winning 13 tackles this season.
If Cleverley can make a few more fouls and earn some yellow cards, he'll have Scholes' defensive contribution down to a tee.
Cleverley Matches Scholes' Passing Accuracy
This season in the Premier League, Paul Scholes has a 92.5 pass success rate from an average of 63 passes per game.
Tom Cleverley has an accuracy of 91.5 percent but hits more passes each match with 70 on average.
And in the UEFA Champions League, Scholes, in the one match he has played, hit 58 passes with 93 percent accuracy.
Cleverley, in the two games he has played, has hit 93 passes per game on average, and has done so with the exact same accuracy as Scholes.
Only Anderson has made more passes on average in the Champions League than Cleverley, while only Michael Carrick has hit more passes on average in the Premier League.
If one thing is clear from the statistics, it's that Cleverley is a very good passer of the ball, and considering he's already matching Scholes when the ball is played on the ground, there's a good chance he'll be able to replace that part of Scholes' game in years to come.
He Has Auditioned in Scholes' Role This Season, and Done Well
Tom Cleverley has been put in the Paul Scholes role four times this season by Sir Alex Ferguson.
Lining up as the playmaker in a two-man double pivot alongside a more conservative partner in Michael Carrick or Anderson, Cleverley has done Scholes' job against Fulham, Southampton, CFR Cluj and Newcastle United.
And barring the Southampton game, it's so far so good for the heir to Scholes.
In the 3-2 win over Fulham, Cleverley was key as he made the second most tackles for United, hit more passes than any other player on the field and, overall, had the second most ball touches in the match.
Against the Saints, he had less impact on the game, and if his audition as the next Scholes wasn't clear enough, he made way for the United legend after 61 minutes, who made it clear how the role should be played.
Away to Cluj in the Champions League, Cleverley was back on form in that role. The presence of Darren Fletcher in midfield gave him license to create plays, setting up three goalscoring chances for teammates including a one-on-one.
And in his toughest game yet in the Scholes role—away to Newcastle—he barely made a wrong pass, as he linked play between defence and attack better than any other player on the pitch.
And he topped it off with a fortuitous goal!
He has done well so far in his audition to be the next Paul Scholes, and it seems if there's ever going to be a direct replacement for Scholes, it will be Tom Cleverley.
Statistics courtesy of WhoScored.com