By Mark Young.
It would be an understatement to say that the last few months have been amazing for the Basingstoke born Tom Cleverley but the young midfielder has taken everything in his stride and the hard work is paying off.
It all started at 12 years old for Cleverley after Manchester United signed him from the Bradford City youth setup. He worked his way through the ranks (featuring as a full back but then switched into a central position) and had featured in first team games between 2007 and 2009, but only in pre season friendlies. He was sent out on loan to Leicester City in League One in 2009 and helped the Foxes to promotion. It was the following season where his talents really came to the fore being sent out on loan to Championship side Watford. He scored 11 goals in 35 games, which for a midfielder is a terrific return. He ran games from the centre of the park and the following season was his chance to improve further. A deadline day move, in 2010 to Wigan Athletic on a season long loan proved fruitful for the ever improving Cleverley. Under Roberto Martinez he was given that much needed Premier League experience. He made 25 starts and scored four goals as Wigan survived relegation.
After returning from a successful loan spell at the DW Stadium Sir Alex Ferguson had Cleverley join the first team squad on their pre season tour of America. He impressed and the United boss had him in the starting eleven against Barcelona in the final game of the tour. He shone in the centre of the park playing the full 90 minutes. As Man United beat their conquerors of only a few months ago in the Champions League final a new star was emerging. Ferguson was impressed and hinted that he was well in his plans for the season to come. United were looking for a new creative midfielder after Paul Scholes’ retirement at the end of last season, Ferguson saw Cleverley as a replacement but rumours about Wesley Sneijder arriving from Inter Milan would persist up until deadline day.
The debut came in the curtain raising game to the English season, the Community Shield against Manchester City at Wembley Stadium. United were 2-0 down at half time and had a mountain to climb. Cleverley came on at the break. No pressure then. Cleverley’s simple passing and intelligent play with midfield partner Anderson, Nani and Ashley Young on the wings and Wayne Rooney and youth team, team mate Danny Welbeck was brilliant. United turned a two goal deficit into a 3-2 super show as the red showed they meant business with Cleverley one of the shining lights. He was involved in everything, which was hard to say of the man he replaced, Michael Carrick. He was even involved in United’s magnificent second as between them, Nani, Rooney and Cleverley played some nice touches around the area before Cleverley’s final touch set Nani up for a dramatic equaliser. This 45 minute performance from Cleverley was a signal of intent and he had definitely staked his claim to start the season away at West Brom.
It was good news for the 22 year old as he started at West Brom for United’s clash with the Midland’s club. Fellow youth graduate, Danny Welbeck also started along with Chris Smalling at right back. The team was young and hungry. Rooney put United ahead before a Shane Long equaliser before half time. United then took control in the latter part of the second half and a deflected Ashley young shot gave United’s young guns the first three points of the season. An accomplished performance from Cleverley who showed great composure stepping up into the first team and his start for the first home game of the season against Spurs was assured.
Danny Welbeck and Chris Smalling again started in the second game at Old Trafford but so did Phil Jones and Jonny Evans along with Cleverley. The team was one of the youngest Ferguson has ever fielded in the Premier League with Wayne Rooney and Patrice Evra being the experienced campaigners. Rooney is still only young himself. The recently labelled ‘Fergie’s Babes’ showed how football was played. After a tense first half the first goal was made in the United youth system. Cleverley played a lovely ball into the Spurs area which Danny Welbeck headed into the back of the net. Welbeck then set up Anderson before Rooney finished off a 3-0 win. A fantastic performance from such a young team with Cleverley looking more and more confident but more was to come.
Arsene Wenger’s depleted Arsenal side were next to feel the wrath of the young Red Devil’s. The same side started against The Gunner’s and Wenger and his side were blown away. A magnificent 8-2 walloping which hard star performers in every area of the pitch. Cleverley’s maturity alongside Anderson in the middle of the park was a highlight but slightly overlooked. They kept the team ticking and both players were spraying balls all over the pitch, just like Scholes used to do. The great man would be proud. The partnership is blossoming between Anderson and Cleverley and Ferguson must be confident if the two keep up this kind of form with Carrick and Fletcher wondering when they will get a game. But if it works, don’t fix it.
Even after establishing himself as a first team regular at Old Trafford and creating goals for his team mates there was still one more achievement to round off a fantastic opening to the season. He was called up to Fabio Capello’s England squad to play Bulgaria and Wales. He did not feature in both games, but if Cleverley continues his early season form he will be a strong contender for England’s squad when the European Championship’s come around in June.
Cleverley is a determined individual and he has already achieved so much in his young career. He can only get better in the environment that he is in and it would not be a surprise to see him continue in this rich vein of form to which he has started. It would also not be a surprise that if this form is kept up he could be the hub in the heart of midfield for Manchester United and England for many years to come. When United have a Tom Cleverley in this form, a Wesley Sneijder just isn’t necessary.
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