Is Tom Cleverley Good Enough for Manchester United?
Speaking to Henry Winter at The Telegraph, Cleverley came across as a mature and level-headed young footballer—fame hasn't gotten to his head (yet):
Every morning I wake up and think how lucky I am to be playing for the team which all my boyhood heroes played for and for my country. I’m a big believer that if you work hard enough you can achieve as much as you want. That hard work will carry on and hopefully I’ll be sitting here next season with a few bits of silverware.
This article will talk about Cleverley’s development, his strengths, what he needs to work on, and whether or not he’s good enough to be a regular starter under Sir Alex Ferguson.
Tom Cleverley's Development
When Tom Cleverley was on loan at Watford, Manchester United's midfield was too congested for him to even contemplate about breaking into the first XI.
The next season, he was loaned out to Wigan Athletic, where he started several games out wide, but because he averaged 0.6 dribbles per game, he lacked the cutting edge to beat Premier League full-backs. Combined with the fact that he misplaced 32 of 41 crosses, he was never going to impress out wide.
Cleverley capped off a productive loan spell with the Hornets by taking out the club’s Player of the Season award.
Cleverley looked good whenever he drifted centrally and started to string passes.
His best game was when he was given a chance as a central midfielder in a 4-3-3 against Birmingham City—a game Wigan won 2-1 with a 92nd-minute winner from Maynor Figueroa.
Cleverley scored, created the game-winning goal for Figueroa, provided five shots for Wigan, won back the ball five times and completed 85 percent of his passes.
This was the game where you thought: "hang on, Cleverley isn't destined to be a United reject, he has the ability to start in central midfield for Sir Alex Ferguson."
Two years after managing Cleverley, Roberto Martinez heaped praise on the Englishman's high football IQ:
I have said it before, when he was with us, that his tactical ability is not normal for a player of his age in this country. He is someone who could easily fit into the Dutch or Spanish way of playing quite easily, such is his technical ability and awareness.
Evidently, Cleverley took Martínez's habitual need to chop and change tactics in stride.
Tom Cleverley: Are Injuries a Thing of the Past?
Tom Cleverley's career has been blighted by injury.
March, 2007 (via manutd.com): Belatedly, Tom’s body began to match his mind’s readiness. He became an integral part of McGuinness’ under-18s in 2006/07, and was an ever-present in United’s FA Youth Cup run until he suffered a broken leg before the semifinal, second leg. That, at a time when his body was acclimatising to its own substantial changes, would provide the first installment of niggling misfortune with impact injuries.
June 6, 2009 (via thisisleicestershire.co.uk): Cleverley made 10 starts for [Leicester] City and scored twice before his season came to a premature end when he dislocated a shoulder in a 1-1 draw with Colchester at the Walkers Stadium on March 21. After successful surgery, he stayed in touch with City and was a guest at the final home game of the season against Scunthorpe, when the League One trophy was presented.
April 8, 2010 (via BBC Sport): On-loan Watford midfielder Tom Cleverley will miss the rest of the season with knee ligament damage.
September 12, 2011 (via au.fourfourtwo.com): Manchester United midfielder Tom Cleverley suffered ligament damage in his foot, but no break, following a tackle by Kevin Davies during yesterday's 5-0 win at Bolton, his club have said.
November 18, 2011 (from guardian.co.uk via Press Association): Manchester United suffer blow as Tom Cleverley is ruled out "long term." Sir Alex Ferguson has confirmed that Manchester United midfielder Tom Cleverley will be out of action until Christmas with ankle ligament damage.
February 24, 2012 (via The Telegraph): Manchester United’s Tom Cleverley will miss out on a full England debut next week after a scan on an ankle injury showed he will be out for the next two to three weeks. Cleverley will miss Sunday's Premier League trip to Norwich City and next weekend’s clash with Tottenham Hotspur at White Hart Lane, therefore ending any hopes of a first senior cap against Holland at Wembley on Wednesday.
Will Cleverley's career be derailed by injuries just like Owen Hargreaves?
Is Tom Cleverley the Heir to Paul Scholes?
|League Only (2012-13)||Paul Scholes||Tom Cleverley
|Pass Completion %||92.3||89.7|
|Passes Per Game||63.1||63.8|
|Long Pass %||84.5||66.7|
|Long Passes Per Game||10.1||2.8|
|Tackles Per Game||1.6||3.4|
|Tackles Per Foul||1.2||8.5|
|Interceptions Per Game||0.4||0.6|
Tom Cleverley is not Paul Scholes' heir because they're different players.
Cleverley is quite methodical and efficient when tackling. Scholes is one of the worst tacklers to ever grace the Premier League—mainly because he can't control his impulses.
Ironically, when in possession, Scholes is cerebral and calculated. He regularly finds his teammates with accurate diagonal long passes.
Against Chelsea, Cleverley was flustered by the Blues' pressing, which is why he gave away 24 percent of his passes. He was even worse when Athletic Bilbao played the Red Devils off the field in last season's UEFA Europa League second leg.
The Telegraph's Mark Ogden compiled quotes from the game's greats commenting on Scholes' genius:
Sir Bobby Charlton (Manchester United icon): Many great players have worn the shirt of Manchester United. Players I worshipped, then lost with my youth in Munich.
Players like Denis Law and George Best who I enjoyed so much as teammates and now, finally, players I have watched closely in the Alex Ferguson era.
And in so many ways, Scholes is my favourite.
Zinedine Zidane (FIFA World Cup winner): My toughest opponent? Scholes of Manchester. He is the complete midfielder. Scholes is undoubtedly the greatest midfielder of his generation.
Xavi (FIFA World Cup winner): Paul Scholes is a role model. For me—and I really mean this—he's the best central midfielder I've seen in the last 15, 20 years. I've spoken to Xabi Alonso about him. He's spectacular, he has it all: the last pass, goals, he's strong, he doesn't lose the ball, vision. If he'd been Spanish he might have been rated more highly. Players love him.
Socrates (member of Tele Santana's majestic 1982 FIFA World Cup squad): Good enough to play for Brazil. I love to watch Scholes, to see him pass, the boy with the red hair and the red shirt.
Scholes has mastered the art of receiving and distributing passes when being pressured by multiple players. Cleverley hasn't and unless he drastically improves, he will never touch Scholes from a passing perspective.
Yes, Cleverley has a high pass completion percentage, but he only averages 2.8 long passes per game. Last season, he averaged 1.3 and the season before, 0.6.
The red flag is he struggles against technical teams, who play short and snappy passing combined with sharp movement.
If you watch the 3-2 win over Chelsea and the 2-1 loss to Bilbao, one thing you notice about Cleverley is that he gets caught out of position quite frequently.
Against Bilbao, Ander Herrera, Oscar de Marcos and Iker Muniain ran rings around Cleverley. In the game against Chelsea, the one play that summed up Cleverley's night was him being caught up-field as Ramires accelerated into United's defensive third.
It forced Michael Carrick into an ill-advised tackle, leading to a David Luiz free kick, which forced David de Gea into a save.
Cleverley offers Sir Alex Ferguson an all-round game. The 23-year-old has yet to play a full season with United, so until he does, you have to give him time.
So far, the positives outweigh the negatives.
Comment below with your thoughts on Cleverley's future with United.