Saviour. Messiah. Lynchpin? Manchester United and England midfielder Tom Cleverley is rapidly collecting a portfolio of intriguing accolades. His recent performances have sparked a sense of giddy excitement from fans and journalists alike but is this boy a future star or merely a temporary solution for both club and country?
Of course it’s slightly naïve of me to refer to Cleverley as a boy, at 23-years-old he can no longer hide behind the tag of ‘promising youngster’. In spite of a career dogged by injuries, he has emerged from two successful loan spells at Watford and Wigan as a player capable of breaking into Ferguson’s first team. With United desperate to regain their Premier League crown from their fierce local rivals, there is perhaps no better time for Cleverley to finally fulfil his potential.
On the international stage, Roy Hodgson was suitably impressed with his display at the Olympics to make him a prominent figure of England’s World Cup qualifying campaign so far. His rampant showing against an abysmal Moldova side prompted comparisons with Cesc Fabregas before a well-drilled Ukraine midfield effectively turned him invisible. He endured a similar fate in the recent encounters with San Marino and Poland, which raised doubts over his ability to consistently perform at the peak of his game.
As Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard enter the twilight of their career, a vacancy is waiting to be filled in the heart of the midfield. Cleverley has leapfrogged the distinctly average Jordan Henderson, but it will be interesting to see how he copes with the competition of the returning Jack Wilshere and the emerging Jonjo Shelvey. There have been growing calls for Cleverley to accurately define his best position in order to cement his role in the senior squad.
However, one of Cleverley’s key attributes is his versatility across the spine of the midfield. He’s done incredibly well to distinguish himself at Old Trafford with Wayne Rooney constantly treading on his toes as he shuffles around the pitch. His capability to adjust his positioning to play behind, alongside or even beyond England’s talisman has enabled him to outshine new arrival Shinji Kagawa on more than one occasion.
When Cleverley is forced to drop deep, he looks accomplished alongside the tippy-tappy duo of Michael Carrick and Paul Scholes, while displaying tenacity in his defensive duties that will always evoke a positive reaction from supporters. There was a beautiful albeit frustrating moment in Warsaw where Cleverley won the ball only for Rooney to look on with a sense of awe. Perhaps Rooney was reminded of a time when he too used to exhibit the same youthful exuberance when trying to regain possession.
Cleverey’s greatest asset though is his one touch passing, which allows him to act as a metronome in the final third of the pitch. However, he still struggles to provide that cutting edge through ball or the end product to a flowing move, although this is something he seems keen to improve upon.
“It’s been playing on my mind a little bit because I’ve always scored goals when I’ve gone out on loan but I’ve not been doing it for my club and country,” he told MUTV.
October is a crucial month for Cleverley, a gruelling battle with Stoke is staged for the weekend, shortly followed by another important fixture in Europe. The toughest challenge however – perhaps his biggest to date – will come in the form of a double header against Chelsea. To succeed at United you must embellish the ‘big game’ player tag and the revelation that his goal against Newcastle in the Capital One Cup came off the back of a blast from the infamous Fergie hairdryer, is a good indication that he can thrive in those pressure cooker situations.
I have to admit that I refuse to be swept up in the hype that surrounds Tom Cleverley, which the player himself concedes has “run riot”. Anyone who believes his cross-cum shot against Newcastle was intentional needs to have their head examined and his association with Paul Gasgoigne and Matt Le Tissier is incredibly premature, especially as I don’t believe the name Tom Cleverley will ever define a generation. However, he is still a very, very good player who boasts a wealth of potential, which is exactly what his club and country need as they attempt to overturn their recent misfortunes.
The World Cup in Brazil is still two years away, which will see Cleverley approaching the prime milestone of his 25th birthday. Only time will tell whether he’s central to our midfield and any success we may enjoy as a result.