Remember the time when Reds used to debate as to whether Michael Carrick was actually good enough for Manchester United, a time when the likes of Paul Scholes, Anderson and even Owen Hargreaves could hear their name sung every week while the former Spurs man suffered in unappreciated silence?
Now though it’s pretty much established throughout the entire United supporting Universe that Carrick is the greatest midfielder in the history of association football and should have his own statue in front of the Trinity one, made from of all the trophies he’s won and painted in the blood of all his doubters.
One player who’s rapidly emulating Carrick in the dividing if not performance stakes, is United ‘youngster’ Tom Cleverley. The Bradford-born midfielder was being hailed as the new shining light in English football following a decent international performance against a decidedly average Moldova team. Following England’s five nil win Roy Hodgson somewhat over-excitedly claimed: “Tom Cleverley, I suppose you could say, is an attacking midfield player but he’s an attacking midfield player in the same way Cesc Fabregas is.”
While that statement may be true in the sense that saying Clint Hill is a defender in the same way that Nemanja Vidic is- meaning that both fulfil similar roles, despite being miles apart in ability- it now seems a little daft to be mentioning Fabregas and Cleverley in the same way.
Since that impressive outing for the national side, Cleverley has played an important part of United’s march to a 12 point lead at the top of the table, without ever reaching the level that’s made him a definite starter for some of the bigger games.
The biggest criticism of Cleverley seems to be that he doesn’t fulfil a specific role as a midfielder, that his attributes tend to be more ‘jack of all trades master of none.’ Cleverley doesn’t break up the play or have the range of passing of a Carrick, he doesn’t have the attacking qualities of a Shinji Kagawa, nor can he carry the ball and move past people like we’ve seen Anderson do in the past.
What the England international does offer is energy, a good touch and a willingness to make himself available for passes as well as getting involved in attacks and closing down the opposition. Part of the problem for Cleverley is the pedestal he was put on with the media over-hype following the England game, a hype which all but died a mere four days later when the national side drew with the Ukraine and the United midfielder was subbed on the hour.
Since that night in September Cleverley has played eleven more times for United in the league scoring twice and grabbing an assist, although we shouldn’t get too distracted by stats like that as players like Carrick and to a lesser extent Paul Scholes have shown that goals and assists don’t always tell us just how influential a player has been.
Cleverley still hasn’t convinced a lot of Reds he’s ‘United class’ and the problem for him could be that he’s running out of time to fully persuade the manager he should be a regular in the side.
I know Cleverley was picked for the recent Champions League game against Madrid, but would he have been on the pitch had Phil Jones been fit? I’m not so sure.
I don’t for one minute think that Cleverley will be sold, but with Summer approaching and the distinct possibility that Sir Alex will delve into the transfer market to buy another central midfielder, not too mention the emergence of Phil Jones, the need to accommodate the gifted Kagawa and the murmurings that Wayne Rooney’s future may lie deeper than the attack line, the next few months could be vital to the former academy player’s prospects.
Should Cleverley fail to have a real impact going into the final furlong of the season, then the doubters may have reason to believe he’s destined to remain something of a bit part player and maybe see his chances become more limited. If however we see the Cleverley that took us all by storm at the beginning of the last campaign then maybe the man who’s yet to reach 50 games for the Reds – at the not so tender age of 23- could be the answer the the midfield question we’ve all got sick of asking.
It’s a simple question, is he good enough to be a regular? Answer it below if you can be bothered: