I struggle to properly fathom what is happening with Tom Cleverley. As of this moment, the kid once dubbed a prodigy and predicted such a bright future, is struggling to find his identity at Manchester United. A career which started so brightly two years ago with the reigning champions have now drifted into limbo, not being horrendously out of depth, but neither showing signs of world class quality. I think Cleverley is becoming dangerously invisible, and at Man United there is no room for players who can’t apply themselves.
He’s getting an undeserved amount of stick at the moment, though. Despite his failure to impact games the way United fans expect from their midfielders, Cleverley hasn’t been the shambles he’s being depicted as. Having featured in ten games so far, he has provided the legs in midfield on several occasions. Out of the ten games he’s played, United have won six, lost one and drawn three. The loss came at City, the draws came away to Shaktar, Cardiff and Spurs. All acceptable places to drop points, and bar the game at the Etihad, there’s hardly anything to directly blame Cleverley for.
But I guess the point I’m trying to make is that Cleverley’s issue isn’t that he’s playing badly. It’s that he’s not dazzling anyone. At a club like Man United every little mistake – or in Cleverley’s case – any lack of class, will be magnified. At 24 years of age, there’s no longer room for being a young prospect. Results need to show, quickly.
Then again, perhaps all he needs is faith. We’ve quite recently seen the dramatic rise of what is now one of the top flight’s most talented acts. A player who needed several years to find his feet and polish his edge before he mercilessly cut through the veil. Now, there’s hardly anyone better than Aaron Ramsey – last season’s most scrutinized player.
Perhaps there is a lesson to be learned from Arsene Wenger’s unmitigated success with the Welshman. Ramsey’s talent was always there somewhere. After he broke his leg, he just never really found his rhythm again, before he found it fitting to score nine goals in 13 appearances.
We can all agree that the culture for demanding instant success at the top clubs are always at risk of harming long-term plans and talent development. Rather than rushing out to find a replacement in midfield, maybe David Moyes would be better of with seeing this season out, giving Tom Cleverley the time and faith to settle. If Ramsey turns out to be the rule and not the exception, there should be a massive pay off coming Moyes’s way next year.
There is no doubt the midfielder is talented. Former Manchester United youth coach Eric Harrison claimed that Cleverley is the most gifted player at United since the infamous class of 92′.
“Tom for me is without question so good that he is the best young player at United since Paul Scholes, Ryan Giggs and David Beckham came on to the scene,” said Harrison two years ago, not flinching. Since then, United have never had a settled midfield, Cleverley struggled with a few injuries and niggles, and several dozen names have been thrown around as potential transfer targets.
I am going to stick my neck out here, and say that think the kid from Basingstoke will soon justify the faith shown in him by both Moyes and the retired Sir Alex Ferguson. So far we have only seen short glimpses of what he can do, like in his competitive debut, when he played a central part in Man United coming back from 2-0 down to beat City 3-2 in the Community Shield. He shows sings, albeit too few, of superior understanding of the game, and a will play at a high tempo that I enjoy watching.
Is there any way I can possibly know if Tom Cleverley will come good? No. I can make an (un)educated guess. As the Christmas program hits the premiership with full force in the coming weeks we are sure to see a lot more from him, and I can guarantee you that you will hear at least one Manchester United fan will call for his departure – especially if they don’t magically turn the seven point deficit into a three point advantage before New Years.
But Cleverley has all the tools needed to become a great player for United. For once, maybe some extended patience would pay off. The kind that goes beyond the three games we gave Fellaini before we completely dismissed his chances of ever succeeding.
And what a lesson in patience it would be if my prediction came true.