Tom Cleverley will return to Manchester United in January, according to Sir Alex Ferguson. The 21-year-old midfielder is on a one year loan deal with Wigan Athletic. But injury to Antonio Valencia has seemingly prompted a change of heart from the United manager. It is the third time Ferguson has changed his mind about the player.
Initially United’s manager suggested the midfielder would head out on loan, then cancelled the proposal in August, before agreeing to the Wigan deal as the transfer window closed.
Now the United manager has changed his mind again, prompting a January recall of the midfielder who scored 11 times for Watford last season and was voted the Championship club’s player of the year.
“We’ll probably bring Tom back in January. Tom’s going to be a great footballer, I really like him,” Ferguson told Inside United magazine this week.
“I’ve heard the fans are starting to talk about Tom, and I think they’re right to do that because he could very well be the next top player to come through the ranks.
“I felt it could be hard to give him enough football. I think five or six months on loan could really help him. He’ll benefit from first-team football in the Premier League.”
However, Cleverley has appeared just once for Wigan to date after suffering a knee injury in early September, although manager Roberto Martinez has spoken of the midfielder in glowing terms. In the single appearance to data Cleverley’s 20-yard-shot was deflected into the net, crediting the player with an assist.
The latest twist in the Cleverley saga is surprising though even if the scale of United’s midfield problems requires work by the manager. Although strong in numbers many of the club’s midfielders have serious question marks hanging over them.
Indeed, during the summer Ferguson insisted that United keep hold of Cleverley due to the lack of a goalscoring midfielder at the club.
“He is an exceptional young player in terms of his ability to play a variety of positions,” Ferguson said in early August.
“He is such a talent, we must keep him. He showed at Watford that he’s a goalscorer from midfield and we need that. He has outstanding qualities.”
Yet Ferguson chose both to let Cleverley leave while doing nothing to solve the problem he had identified in central midfield. United’s paucity of creative options was amply demonstrated as Ferguson’s side slipped to yet another draw on the road against Sunderland last weekend. The Black Cats rightly identified Paul Scholes as United’s central hub and effectively marked him out of the game.
Now without Valencia until at least late February, Park Ji Sung in poor form, and Ryan Giggs approaching 37, need an extra attacking option in midfield. Cleverley can play across any midfield role, although many feel the youngster’s future an attacking central position and not on the wing.
The dilemma for Cleverley isn’t easy though, even if the youngster inevitably has set his heart on becoming a first team regular at Old Trafford. Should the player return to Manchester he is likely to find himself on the bench for large parts of the run-in.
Moreover, the manager’s call for faith in youth is yet to materialise this season with Rafael da Silva only recently breaking back into the team and Federico Macheda making just the sole league start to date.
The move to bring Cleverley back will find support among the fans though after the Basingstoke-born player impressed during United’s pre-season tour to North America and Mexico. Cleverley scored in the side’s 3-1 win over Celtic and then again with a stunning finish in United’s 5-2 victory over MLS All-Stars, although he has never played for United in the Premier League.
Cleverley has also broken into the England under-21 side, playing a central role in the recent victories over Macedonia and Portugal that qualified Stuart Pearce’s side for the 2011 UEFA European Under-21 Football Championship play-offs.
His next move could prove crucial if he is to progress into the midfielder fans and management alike wish to see at Old Trafford.