Thomas William Cleverley – what a problematic figure. In any given discussion about our Clevz, the word which is bandied about more than any other is “potential” and therein lies his biggest problem; his was a talent that promised so much and produced so little. After the twenty-five year old today confirmed his season-long loan to Aston Villa, it seems appropriate that United Ramble takes a look at where it all went wrong for Tom.
Raised in Bradford, Cleverley was a part of City’s academy set-up for several years before his blossoming talents convinced Manchester United scouts to snap him up at the tender age of twelve. Tom’s’s progression continued as he worked his way through the youth teams and into the reserve side. A series of loans followed in order to aide Cleverley’s development; Leicester came first but it was at Watford and then Wigan where his performances really began to turn a few heads. The youngster proved himself to be a tidy and creative, goalscoring (yes, seriously) midfield player. For the stat fans amongst you, he scored 11 in 33 games at Watford and 4 in 25 at Wigan – not a bad haul for a midfield player.
Following the retirement of Paul Scholes in 2011, there was a gap just waiting to be filled in United’s central midfield and many believed Cleverley to be the homegrown starlet to do just that. There were a series of promising performances which indicated that Cleverley could, in fact, be that man. Have yourself a watch of Nani’s goal in the 2011 Community Shield against our great friends Manchester City as an example of the sort of intricate link-up play that fans of United were hoping could become a regular feature of our play. Cleverley’s season that year started brightly but ultimately petered out following a couple of injury problems and a handful of less inspiring performances. It is here, perhaps, that we can pinpoint the plateau – if not downward spike – in Cleverley’s career.
From that moment onwards, he has been defined by his ineffective, safe and ultimately infuriating passing of the ball. The main issue that many fans of the club will take up with Cleverley’s game is his reluctance to take a risk, to gamble and drive forward, to play a pass that may lead to something more than maintaining possession of the ball in our own third. In an era of the game where passing statistics rule all, some would try to justify his performances as a ball-retaining midfielder, but the fact remains that lethargic sideways passing is not enough of a contribution at a club like United. Be it due to a prolonged struggle for form or a dip in confidence brought on by the groans uttered by his own fans, it is fair to say that Tom Clevereley has regressed as a footballer since the early glimpses of his ability.
Professional football managers are paid to spot talent, to nurture it and to get the best from players. Whilst nobody has yet managed to conjure the magic formula to get the best out of Clevereley, there is certainly something in the fact that Sir Alex Ferguson, Fabio Capello, Roy Hodgson and David Moyes have all seen something in him that convinced them to persist in providing him with chance after chance (after chance). There was even a very short spell prior to the beginning of this season where it seemed that Louis van Gaal himself fancied his chances at launching a Tom Cleverley revival mission.
Manchester United fans are not ones to turn on their own players without real justification. Having said this, the frustrations of last season saw players such as Fellaini, Nani and Hernandez begin to take a bit of a verbal battering, but it seems that Cleverley was the ultimate scapegoat for some. Many will tell you that his attitude contributes towards some of the ill feeling; his personal #TC23 brand always felt like an unnecessary embellishment, for a start. There were also the recent interviews in which he outrageously claimed that he was “under-appreciated” in English football and that he would receive greater plaudits were he playing in Spain. Add into that equation the unconfirmed reports that he initially priced himself out of a permanent move to Villa with an astonishing set of wage demands and it is easy to see why he has never been viewed as one of our most likeable academy graduates. United want their own to do well – they pride themselves on it – but Cleverley has never fully endeared himself to the Old Trafford faithful.
In a United squad dangerously light on central midfield quality, Tom has still found himself surplus to requirements. Perhaps his career will take off at Villa and we genuinely wish him the very best of luck if it does. Twenty-five is not a young age in the modern game, however, and you can’t help but feel that this is something of a last chance saloon for Cleverley.