While most fawn over the romanticism of football, proof if ever there needs be that there is no room for sentiment at the very top came as Tom Cleverley was cruelly ruled out of England’s upcoming friendly against Holland on Wednesday.
The 22-year-old was pulled out of Stuart Pearce’s squad for the game at Wembley on the eve of what was expected to be his first ever cap for his country amidst fears scans may reveal an injury that will spell another prolonged spell on the sidelines.
Sir Alex Ferguson moved quickly to allay fans that the ‘knock’, picked up in United’s 2-1 Europa League defeat on Thursday wasn’t as bad as originally though, telling MUTV: "He got a knock. We sent him for a scan but we don't think it's serious."
Fate seems to be conspiring against Cleverley, especially when it comes to playing for his country against Holland – he missed out winning his first cap for his country when England’s friendly against the Oranje was cancelled at the start of the season because of the London riots.
The youngster had been heralded as everything from the timely boost United needed to push on and claim their 20th league title to the man pick the brain of Paul Scholes as his professional career flickers back into life for the rest of the season.
Four months on the sidelines already this season have robbed both him of the chance to further his game and continue his steep ascendency to a regular starting spot in United’s midfield and his side to see the talented youngster in action.
Ferguson has rightly acknowledged not only Cleverley’s potential as the future fulcrum of his side but also his footballing brain before news of his withdrawal from England broke.
While it is his range of passing that immediately impressed when Cleverley made his full Premier League debut against West Brom at the start of the season – with most hoping to see him blossom into a full-blown replacement for Scholes – it is his quickness of thought that is the perfect foil to his excellent right boot.
"He is a very clever footballer. He has got a quick brain in terms of appreciation of passing," Ferguson said. "He gives us more ammunition in midfield which a few months ago everyone was starting to worry about."
That midfield that had once looked barren should be bolstered by the return of Anderson to action as the Brazilian nears full fitness, while Michael Carrick’s recent form and of course the return of Scholes means United now have plenty of options there.
However they will hope that Ferguson’s assessment of Cleverley’s injury proves to be true – his original return seemed to come at the right time as the title battle looked set to hot up.
The belief shown in him by Ferguson is a testament to just how highly he is rated; it’s just a shame most observers have been robbed of the chance to see him flourish on the grandest stage for the large majority of what should be his breakthrough season.
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