It was a humble beginning to the game for Manchester United’s young midfield maestro, Tom Cleverley.
Despite joining the famed youth academy of Manchester United at the tender age of 11, Cleverley never found it easy to make his mark. He found first team opportunities limited with harsh competition from established players, with the likes of Paul Scholes, Darren Fletcher and Michael Carrick bossing United’s midfield.
As a result, Cleverley was farmed out on loan to various Championship clubs including Leicester City and Watford, and most notably, Wigan Athletic in the Premier League, where he made his breakthrough. Since then, Cleverley has been propelled to prominence by a process of elimination; Scholes's two retirements and Darren Fletcher's chronic bowel complaint.
And indeed, Tom Cleverley did not disappoint. Although plagued by an injury spell early last season, whenever he played, Tom made the most of his chances, and put in fantastic after spectacular performances in his holding midfield role. Tom had benefitted hugely from Sir Alex Ferguson's eagerness to promote from within and his astonishing reluctance to spend in center midfield
However, since breaking into the first-team at the Theatre of Dreams, the midfielder has come in for huge criticism. Cleverley’s fitness and strength has been criticised, as he tires badly in the second half of games, leading many to believe that his progress has stalled.
As many may like to call Cleverley “the most overrated English footballer” or “not fit to don the United jersey”, perhaps he is unfairly treated. When Tom plays, he works non-stop. He doesn’t pull of the stunning runs, but his passing keeps United ticking. He keeps it moving fast and has a similar mindset as Carrick as he knows how to make the best pass to retain possession and get out of tight spaces. He may not be the Lampard-esque goalscoring midfielder that the fans crave, but the 24-year-old has been the engine of United’s midfield and the heartbeat of their every move.
As such, Cleverley has been lavished with praised from respected managers in Sir Alex Ferguson and Roy Hodgson. The England manager was quoted saying: “Tom’s come into a team alongside the likes of Lampard and Gerrard and didn’t look at all out of place. I suppose you would call him an attacking midfield player, but he’s an attacking midfielder in the same way as Cesc Fabregas. He’s quite capable of coming back into a central midfield role and quite capable, even, of coming back to win the ball when necessary.” Hodgson went on to start Cleverley in all seven internationals since England’s demise in Euro 2012.
However, Cleverley’s lack of goal returns has seen him criticised by many pundits and fans, leading to him denounced as a flop for England and that he doesn’t deserve to play for England. However, what Cleverley adds to the England side is his tenacity and passing.
Dubbed as the next Paul Scholes by the minority, Cleverley works tirelessly for every ball and never stops to rest. He is able to maintain that high-tempo play for England. He also has a spectacular vision for the game and is able to thread that decisive ball through the opposition’s defence, finding an onrushing attacker or winger to bury the ball into the net.
He has a special sixth sense of where his teammates are. Cleverley ticks all the boxes to be a complete central midfielder, and would be absolutely vital to England’s 2014 World Cup hopes, adding much needed support, pace and defensive stability to the preferred pivot of Lampard and Gerrard. And yes, he plays the occasional loose ball and makes the inevitable mistakes, but Cleverley is not quite yet the finished product. He is only 24 and hasn’t reached the peak of his game yet. I believe with faith and good guidance under Hodgson, Cleverley can be moulded into the Paul Scholes type of player for England. He certainly has all the potential and attributes to be a midfield maestro.
Despite strong competition from England’s established central midfielders, Cleverley will certainly provide a strong alternative to the likes of Lampard, Gerrard, Wilshere and compatriot, Michael Carrick. And certainly, Tom Cleverley deserves to be in the England squad. Overrated? Maybe not. There is still much more that we have yet to see from this promising young midfielder. In the near future, Cleverley will perhaps prove his critics wrong, and become one of the midfield gems of England.
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