Offering a Case for the Defence of Manchester United Midfielder Tom Cleverley

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Offering a Case for the Defence of Manchester United Midfielder Tom Cleverley
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Let's get one thing straight. It's not Tom Cleverley's fault Manchester United are sixth in the Premier League table.

It's not his fault there might not be Champions League football at Old Trafford next season.

It's true he hasn't played particularly well this season. But that's an accusation that can be thrown at many of his team-mates. In fact, there are very few members of United's squad who can honestly say they've had a good season.

But Cleverley has been singled out.

It doesn't help that he has had the misfortune of being part of United's midfield. It's the weakest area of the squad and has been for some time.

As such, it's the area of the team United fans talk about the most. The area that is highlighted after every game. It's placed Cleverley's role, what he can and can't do, under extreme scrutiny.

Jon Super/Associated Press

In a way, Cleverley, still learning his game, has been badly let down by United's lack of investment in midfield. He's had more opportunities because of it, but he's also had more pressure heaped on his shoulders. Pressure that can sometimes crush young players.

Had things gone differently, United might have been able to field Cesc Fabregas, Sami Khedira or Daniele De Rossi in their midfield this season. Instead, it's been Cleverley.

And there lies another problem.

There is always a scepticism when a player graduates from the academy. They are built up, hailed as the next big thing when they break through. It's something Adnan Januzaj is experiencing now.

But then comes the fall from grace. It's happening to Cleverley now and, to a lesser extent, Danny Welbeck.

It's happened to them all. Ryan Giggs, David Beckham, Nicky Butt, Phil Neville, Darren Fletcher and Jonny Evans all came out the other side. They took their fair share of stick early in their United careers but went to prove their doubters wrong.

There's still time for Cleverley to do the same. Plenty of time.

It's important to put Cleverley's career into context.

At 24 years old, he's not considered a youngster any more. Especially when he's playing alongside Januzaj, who's still only 19.

Kirsty Wigglesworth/Associated Press

But he can't be considered experienced. He broke into the first-team squad at the beginning of the 2011-12 season after an impressive cameo against Manchester City in the Community Shield at Wembley.

But injury stopped his progress and he played just 15 times all season. He played 32 times last season including, importantly, the wins at Manchester City, Chelsea and Newcastle.

Sang Tan/Associated Press

He also started in the home wins against Arsenal, Liverpool and Everton.

He might be 24, but he's still only halfway through his second full season as a regular in the first-team squad. Welbeck is a year younger but has played 50 games more.

Cleverley can take heart that he's not the first, and certainly won't be the last, United player to face criticism from the fans.

And others who have been through it have gone on to become important players for the club.

It's not too late for Cleverley to add his name to that list.

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