Tom Cleverley gets his Instructions from Sir Alex
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?
It is always thrilling for football supporters when their team gets the big signing that they think will give them the edge. There is, however, nothing more satisfying than seeing a player move through the academy ranks and break in to the first team.
Cleverley joined United at the age of 12 from Bradford City. Now at age 23, he has had to bide his time waiting for the opportunity to play in a midfield packed with experience. Some would say that at his age, he should already be established. However, he is still young enough to bring an exciting fresh-faced style to United’s play.
Cleverley Scores in the Capital One Cup
Spending 11 years moving through the United academy system will instill one attribute that you can’t buy or guarantee in players from elsewhere.
An unrelenting work ethic is exemplified by all those who will be remembered as greats at Old Trafford—if you don’t work hard, you don’t play and you don’t stay.
For all his passing and creative ability, Cleverley knows he must combine that with hard graft in the engine room on the field of play. He does not shirk the defensive duties required of him.
When discussing Danny Welbeck and himself in an interview on Mirror.co.uk, Cleverley agreed.
“We know we have by no means made it. The hard work carries on for years and years. We are lucky to have a lot of role models at Manchester United—Giggsy, Scholesy, Rio...”
Quick, forwards passing from Tom Cleverley
If you were to list all the attributes that the likes of Paul Scholes, Michael Carrick, Anderson and Darren Fletcher have, pace would not be high on that list.
Cleverley is nimble, agile and quick over short distances. Not one to dwell too long on the ball or dribble it in to trouble, he possesses great speed of thought and a tendency to want to always keep the ball moving forward.
With an array of targets on the wings or in United’s threatening forward line, he knows that a well-placed quick forward pass will leave defenders flat-footed.
Cleverley has a great understanding with Danny Welbeck. They have come through the academy at the club and played together for many years prior to joining the first-team squad.
United can use this to their advantage in much the way that Barcelona have from a similar situation with Xavi, Iniesta and Messi. The two have United’s philosophy built into their footballing DNA, and when both are featured, their link-up play is often a joy to watch.
With one of his peers also sharing the pitch and joining the first team at the same time, Cleverley will fell at home immediately. The presence of both will calm each other’s nerves as they continue a style of play they have practised for years.
Once embedded in the first team, though, Cleverley has taken this understanding of forward play and also applied it to working with three of the world’s great strikers.
Wayne Rooney, Robin Van Persie and Javier Hernandez supply Cleverley with a vast array of playing styles that he can tap into, and he is always looking to utilise them.
Whether it was meant as a shot or a cross does not actually matter.
Cleverley’s confidence on the ball and in his ability to get it forward at the first opportunity was the important aspect here. It bodes well for him beginning to fulfill the potential that Sir Alex Ferguson believes he has and adds further threat to United’s attacking play.
If it was a cross, it was beautifully dangerous. If it was a shot....well, it was just beautiful.