Tom Cleverley has become a regular fixture in the Manchester United first-team squad over the last two seasons, but just what does he bring to the table, and will he fulfill the potential that the United and England coaches believe he has?
In the 2011 Community Shield, Manchester United faced Manchester City. City finished the previous season with an FA Cup win that ended their 37-year trophy drought. They now had a point to prove, that the “noisy neighbours” were now banging on the title door. At 2-0 up in the game by halftime, City had capitalised on a nervous debut for David De Gea and a lacklustre start for a United midfield that many observers were claiming lacked drive, bite and invention.
Enter one Tom Cleverley.
To United fans, it was hardly an inspiring substitution. United supporters are always happy to see young players make their way through the ranks and enter the team. However, the whole summer had been spent courting world superstar Wesley Sneijder. With the failure to capture the Dutchman’s signature, was Tom Cleverley really a suitable backstop? A young reserve player, Cleverley's experience in the big league had come in a relegation dogfight on loan at Wigan Athletic.
Cleverley was instrumental in the turnaround in that game, with United running out as 3-2 winners on the day. The attributes he showed in that second-half performance justified the belief that Sir Alex Ferguson had in his young charge.
Another excellent performance a few weeks later in the 8-2 demolition of Arsenal seemed to suggest that the loss of Paul Scholes to retirement (he later rejoined the playing staff, of course) would not be as difficult to bear as imagined. Cleverley also found himself called up to the England squad.
Unfortunately, the season did not continue on such highs, as the young man from Basingstoke succumbed to injury and never fully regained his early-season form. It is this season, then, that he must start to deliver on the promise he has shown so far.
So what exactly does Cleverley bring to the Manchester United midfield?