Manchester United are set to return from a very successful pre-season tour to the USA, as they finished with a cent percent record, which included a win against a depleted, yet more than handful Barcelona side. Although, a pre-season tour is not an actual measure of things to come, but it does help the manager in trying different players and tactics in a competitive environment. And the manager had several things to try as well, with one of the biggest squad overhauls taking place at United since 1995.
Despite winning the much coveted 19th league title last season, there was a lot of talk about this United side not being the greatest and the talk was fuelled by the mauling at the hands of Barcelona in the Champions League final at Wembley. And with Scholes, Neville and Van Der Sar deciding to call off their careers and experienced players in Hargreaves, Brown and O’Shea offloaded, Sir Alex has to, once again and perhaps for the last time, build yet another team that would strive to be the best.
With Jones, Young and De Gea’s signing, there are no doubts that Sir Alex has taken steps towards building a new squad but, the talks are still on about finding a replacement for Scholes, as United surely needs a player, who can pull the strings from midfield, especially with Giggs not likely to play too many games. The likes of Modric, Nasri and Sneijder have been linked all summer but Sir Alex is looking more likely to find an answer from Carrington itself and that answer could very well be Tom Cleverley.
Cleverley joined United at a tender age of 15 from Bradford and learnt his trade at United’s academy and played a number of U-18 and reserve games for the Red Devils. Having seen the potential in him, Sir Alex decided to loan him to Leicester City at the start of 2009. He played 15 games for the Foxes, helping them to the League One title and a promotion to the Championship in the process. After his return from Leicester, he was sent on loan again for the 2009-10 season – this time to Watford, who were playing in the Championship. Cleverley was an instant hit for the Hornets, as he was voted their player of the season, despite not playing the last couple of months due to a knee injury.
Before the start of last season, Cleverley went with the first team on the pre-season tour to the USA and did very well, which made him a favourite to break into the first team. But that was not to be, as Cleverley was once again loaned out to Wigan, as Sir Alex felt that he needed Premiership experience before being ready to get into the United squad. It was yet another successful loan spell, as he played 25 games for the Latics and scored four goals and was crucial in helping Wigan to stay in the top flight for another season.
This time again, Cleverley was taken to USA for the pre-season tour and has done well to make the most of the opportunities that came his way. His best game on the tour was against Barcelona, where he played the full 90 minutes against Iniesta, Kieta and Thiago, who was recently voted as the player of the U-21 Euro Championships. Cleverley was very good on the night both defensively and offensively, as he showed great discipline, which is pretty much needed against a Barcelona side. He was also instrumental in the winner scored by United, as he intercepted a loose ball and released Michael Owen, who made no mistake in putting the ball past Valdes.
Sir Alex said after the game – “Tom Cleverley, physically, isn’t the strongest lad but he’s wily and he has a great idea of the game. He’s a good footballer and I thought he was our best player tonight.”
The manager also hinted that with Fletcher out for the start of the season, Cleverley could very well find a place in the team in the first few games.
As things stand, Tom’s breakthrough season might finally be here; ergo the chance to fulfill his destiny. With the United manager showing great faith in the lad, all Cleverley needs to do is put his best foot forward and showcase his abundant talent. TheHardTackle puts Tom Cleverley’s game under the scanner – just how ready is Cleverley to make up the tough transition? Can Tom do a Wilshere and relieve the gaffer and the fans from the midfield conundrum? Here’s a closer look.
Cleverley is very good footballer and possesses nimble footwork, that allows him to be extremely good on the ball. This would definitely be a great help to the team, as they like to have possession of the ball, especially when it comes to playing at Old Trafford. Also, as Sir Alex said, he is a smart footballer, who has a great idea of the game and what is happening around him – both defensively and offensively.
Cleverley is also very good at exchanging short passes, as seen in his earlier loan spells at Watford and Wigan, but more importantly, he has an eye for goals, which will certainly be a help to the team, as United were struggling to find goals from the midfield for the past few seasons.
Like any other young footballer, one weakness that Cleverley has is inexperience. He has played only a handful of games, that too, for smaller teams, where the pressure is nothing close to that of a player at Old Trafford, as one bad game here is remembered more than a lot of good performances.
Also, Cleverley needs to build upon his physical strength to develop into a top quality midfield player or else he could be found wanting against physical teams such as Stoke, Blackburn and Bolton. The other weakness, which could be seen during his loan spells, was his limitations in long-range passing. For the past two decades, United fans are used to seeing Scholes hitting the man on the byline through superb cross-field balls and as United do like to use the width of the pitch, Cleverley has to be a lot better in distributing long balls or else he could struggle to find a place in a 4-4-2 formation.
With Scholes retired and United itching to find a replacement, Cleverley has possibly the biggest opportunity to take the central midfield position by the scruff of the neck and make it his own for years to come. On the other hand, United themselves have the opportunity to give Cleverley a good run, as he could provide a different dimension to the team with his goal scoring attributes and his excellent ‘give and go’ passing skills.
There are several questions that need to be answered by Cleverley before he cements his place in the Untied first team. Tom has more often than not played in a three-man midfield in his loan spells and it remains to be seen whether he can play as a part of a two-man midfield, as Sir Alex’s most favoured formation is 4-4-2.
Another thing that comes to mind is whether Cleverley can dictate the tempo of the game, as Red Devils are used to playing the game at their own pace, which is set by their midfielders. But the biggest threat of all for Cleverley is the way he deals with the inevitable comparisons with the great Paul Scholes, as United fans would most definitely compare any new player with the maestro.
The new season is just a week away, as United prepare themselves to lock-horns with their ‘noisy neighbours’ at Wembley in the Charity Shield and all eyes, on that day, would be on Tom Cleverley to see whether he lives upto his potential.
Cleverly has a great footballing brain and with the ball at his feet, he is more than capable of unlocking any defence. The boy has all the attributes needed to be a “Man United” player and also the attitude to make him a fan’s favourite. Sky is the limit for this lad from Hampshire, hopefully the potential gets realized into performances and Ferguson’s faith is once again vindicated. Go on Tom, your time is here and now!