This summer Manchester United supporters have as one cried for a new attacking midfielder to complete what is still a very good squad, albeit lacking some creativity. This desire is, of course, tied both to Paul Scholes’ ageing legs and the Mesut Özil transfer saga, which came to a close last week when the German signed for Real Madrid.
Having lost out on the German, United may now turn to someone already at the club to fill the creative role in central midfield – Tom Cleverley.
Ever since joining United at age fifteen in 2005, Basingstoke-born Cleverley has impressed coaches and supporters alike. In 2008 he was nominated for Reserve Player of the Season, after just his first full year with the reserves.
The youngster was then called up to the United first team squad for the club’s tour of South Africa in summer 2008 and was again nominated for Reserve Player of the Season at the end of that campaign, despite spending almost half the season on loan at Leicester City in the Championship.
Cleverley truly came into the spotlight during his season-long loan to Watford in the 2009-10 season when the club named the attacking midfielder its player of the season, on his way to eleven league goals.
Such were Cleverley’s performances for Watford that he earned an appearance on this summer’s tour to Canada, the USA and Mexico, with the midfielder scoring against both Celtic and the MLS All-Stars. The latter, a goal of real quality, came from an ingenious flick and smart first-time finish.
Despite speculation that the player would again be loaned, Sir Alex Ferguson has opted to retain the English midfielder’s services this season, praising the player who is yet to make a senior competitive appearance for the club.
“He is an exceptional young player in terms of his ability to play a variety of positions,” added Ferguson this summer.
“He can play in central midfield and on both wings. He is such a talent, we must keep him.”
Now Cleverley faces arguably the most important season of his career, with a real chance to crack the United first team. There has never been a better time for the player to make the jump up in class, with Paul Scholes playing a deeper role (and less often at 36), Michael Carrick in the poorest form of his career and Anderson injured and out of favour.
Last season the five-man midfield deployed in most of United’s important fixtures offered Sir Alex an insurance policy when it came to blooding new midfielders. When Darron Gibson came into the picture and performed poorly, United’s two deep-lying midfielders provided extra support and security.
The Irishman gained opportunities in high-profile matches, most memorably against Bayern Munich at Old Trafford in which the 22-year-old scored. Ferguson employed Gibson in the attacking midfield role that Scholes once occupied several times last season but despite the player’s long-range shooting, many supporters feel that Irishman doesn’t have the pace, creativity or range of passing to develop into a top rate attacking midfielder.
On the other hand, Cleverley does.
The midfielder is able to make clever runs to get into advanced positions, can beat a man and moves the ball well. If Cleverley is given the same number of opportunities that Gibson has been afforded, there is every chance the Englishman will have even more success.
The key games for Cleverley will be the early season Carling Cup ties where the midfielder will automatic be on the teamsheet. He must now prove to Ferguson that he has developed to maturity and ability to start the more important fixtures that come in March, April and May when the injury list inevitably piles up.
In fact, if Cleverley impresses in these early season matches there’s every chance he will gain more minutes at United, than the high-profile former target Özil will at Real Madrid.