Liverpool Fans You'll LikeThis: Tom Cleverley: The Sweaty Totem Of Their Nightmarish Future...
Right. Let's sort this out. What’s the deal with Tom Cleverley?
Unfortunately for Manchester United supporters, the queue of available scapegoats for the club's current malaise is swelling like Thorpe Park on a Bank Holiday. As David Moyes wrestles with the t*rd of a squad that had been polished to a silver sheen by Sir Alex Ferguson, it becomes ever clearer that various players simply are not good enough. Clevz, TC23, The Roaming Haircut, call him what you will - one man symbolises the clunking changing of the guard more than anyone.
As the last remaining vestiges of the Class of '92 continue to give way, with Paul Scholes retiring and Ryan Giggs slipping into player-coach dotage, Cleverley was supposed to herald a bright new era. But while the likes of Bebe and Gabriel Obertan go on to bigger and brighter things, Cleverley hasn't even roused enough interest to warrant updating the Q&A section on his official website. While fans gather on social media to swap sterile statistics to prove how bad/good he is/isn’t, I hope to get to the real issues clouding this enigma.
No amount of data analysis will tell you the horrible truth that Tom Cleverley is the owner and proprietor of football's sweatiest face. This may explain why he often looks extremely confused, like he's just received terrible news before stepping onto the pitch. Nary a game passes without him resembling a puzzled-looking pickled onion. There is simply no way that such a slick physiognomy can be conducive to a reliable and incisive passing game. Crackpot author David Foster Wallace would combat his own such sweat problem by wearing bandanas, to prevent him from dripping over his books at public readings. Is the world ready for a footballer wearing a bandana? That's a fabulous question, and I'm glad you asked it. The former Wimbledon and Crystal Palace defender Eric Young was notable for his trademark sweatband, which was so tight it was believed that it held his very skull together, much like Petr Cech's Stephen Hunt helmet. So, bandana or sweatband. Two obvious solutions. Job done.
As Moyes no doubt rues on a daily basis, if only it were that easy. As with so many up-and-coming youngsters before him, his sad tale appears to be one of faltering potential. Early loan spells, particularly at Watford and Wigan, augured well for a fine career with United, which was to begin in earnest during the 2010/11 season. The problem is he started well, perhaps even too well, with his second-half substitute appearance against Manchester City in the Community Shield. United came back from 2-0 down at half-time to win 3-2, with their equaliser proving to be the highlight of a surprisingly entertaining game. Scored by Nani, it was set up by some smart interplay between Cleverley, Wayne Rooney and Danny Welbeck, who sliced open the City defence with some intricate movement and swift one-touch passing.
Wazza, Welbz and Clevz - the axis of witless Z-based nicknames, a tri-headed totem for United's future. This would be the foundation of the club's next generation. Beyond their club, the goal was a tonic to the technically-deficient twattery that blighted the English national side, a year on from the cataclysmic 4-1 drubbing by Germany at the 2010 World Cup. The goal offered fresh hope, the promise of a bright new day not just for club but for country, and Cleverley would be at the heart of it all. But ever since, he has failed to maintain the high standards unwittingly set by that tantalising glimpse of composure and skill. Now aged 24, he is dodging brickbats hurled by an increasingly beleaguered United support while also trying to find out what a brickbat is. Perhaps his problem is with how England views its young prodigies these days, and how English players can scarcely evade the audacity of hype that comes with their nationality. Just as surely as football clubs are expected to pay an 'English premium' for their young players, those that don't fulfil their potential meet with greater hostility.
Growing distrust of the national team was expected to lead to a realignment of expectations. Think of the various youngsters that were given the chance to play regular Premiership football through the late 90s, early 00s: Rooney, Michael Owen, Rio Ferdinand, Frank Lampard, Joe Cole, Ashley Cole et al were simply too good not to play for their clubs before reaching their twenties. Hopes for such players were high, and as such they all shared membership to England's vaunted Golden Generation, famous for being a s*** generation. Although they burnt the public's fingers with their bumbling ineptitude, there is still an undying belief that a saviour is coming. Jack Wilshere is supposed to inherit the the role of technically-gifted, swollen-tongued midfield imp vacated by Joe Cole. Andros Townsend has emerged as the latest of Great White Hopes. That's to say nothing of Ross Barkley being compared recently to Paul Gascoigne. The point is, if you're young, talented and English, you just won't be allowed to develop at your own pace. Sooner rather than later people expect a return on the hype. The player Cleverley was meant to be has failed to arrive. Sadly, we will never know why, until he decides to update his Q&A section.
The Premier League table is in a curious state of flux, so the forthcoming transfer window – that bi-annual travesty of enthusiasm – could prove particularly vital. Everyone knows that United desperately need a new midfielder. Perhaps even more than one. Cleverley knows this too. During his club's 2-2 draw with Tottenham, Moyes could be seen gesticulating on the sidelines, frustrated by Cleverley’s insistence on playing the ball sideways, rather than forwards. He is being too safe, averting risk, knowing full well that his days may well be numbered. Cleverley was meant to represent United's bright new future, but is slowly coming instead to represent England's persistent slavery to its own hunger for misplaced hype. The players who have previously choked under the pressure exerted by an over-expectant public were supposed to die out and take the remaining traces of the plague with them.
Through Cleverley the strain lives on. As he stumbles around listlessly in the limbo of United's lifeless midfield, awaiting the grim fate of an inevitable move to Sunderland, you can see him sweating.