Man United: Did Cleverley Get A New Deal Just 'Cos He's English?
It seems like an age since Tom Cleverley's introduction at half time of the 2011 Community Shield.
He was involved in the move that would see Nani calmly chip the ball over Joe Hart and level the game. Initially, this type of performance, characterised with his quick interchanges, excellent ground work and impressive work rate, continued whilst he played for the Red Devils. But all to recently, the name of Cleverley has become synonymous with vitriolic comments. He has bared the brunt for what has been a shambolic season for Man Utd thus far. Now, reports have surfaced that Man Utd are looking to offer Cleverley a new five year deal with wages in the region of £60,000 a week. Yet, the question still has to be asked: what has happened to the Basingstoke born player?
Some of the inventiveness that Sir Alex Ferguson saw in him to call him a 'potential homegrown replacement' for Paul Scholes has slowly been ebbed away from his game. His best work would come when he was in and around the penalty box as he would play one touch football, especially with his English compatriots. There was purpose in the short forward passes and the runs that he mad. His respective stints at right back and on the wing for the youth team and Wigan Athletic would have helped hone his work rate and defensive contributions. It looked as if he was going to continue to burgeon as Ferguson described his 57 minute performance against Everton on 29th October 2011 as 'outstanding'. In this game, he was deployed in an advanced midfield role.
When he was moved to central midfield, problems became evident with Cleverley's style. The performance against Southampton and his subsequent replacement is a game that would sum up these issues well. He often vacated his position, alongside Carrick, to press further up the pitch and this left us vulnerable to the counter attack. Scholes replaced him and was what helped us eventually win the game 3-2. Robin van Persie dedicated the win to the latter's passing. Cleverley couldn't hit 'unbelievable thirty or forty metre' passes like Scholes did in that game. Short passing is his game and he was accustomed to doing it further up the pitch.
The former Bradford City youngster changed his game, accordingly. He became comfortable in possession, in deeper positions. He used his work rate effectively to close down players without freeing up a lot of space in behind. However, what he offered going forward became more and more limited. Carrick was the one who took up the creative mantle for the 2012/13 season and they went on to consolidate a formidable partnership that would see us hardly lose a game when they featured together. Games such as Man City away, where van Persie won the game with the virtually the last kick of the game, and Newcastle away, a game in which Cleverley curled last of the three goals into the top corner. It looked like he had turned a corner.
Then things changed once again the following season, the current one. Wayne Rooney offered less protection after resuming services in the second striker role. Carrick suffered an injury in November and has looked off colour for the majority. Cleverley was tasked with carrying the creative burden in the middle of the for Man Utd. There is little variance in his passing and he found it difficult to pass with opposition players in front of him. In the two prior seasons before, he average just 0.5 and 0.9 key passes per game, respectively. He has hardly registered a through ball in these two seasons, as well. He was never a player that would be able to dictate the play from deep like Scholes was able to do. In essence, what he has become is a player that breaks up play and passes the ball to the more technically adept players.
Therefore, some will agree that it is weird that the Red Devils look set to offer him a new deal when an upgrade on his talent would be easy to find. It seems that his nationality and being with the youth since a young age is reason enough to keep him as a potential squad player. Compounded with petitions and booing for England, it would take Cleverley to be a mentally strong player to come back from this. His claims of being a 'scapegoat' and the fans not appreciating his Spanish style has only exacerbated the amount of negative critics he already had. It should have been seen that his ability was rated too highly to begin with. Even in his advanced role, he hardly split defences with through balls, so why was it expect he could split midfields, when it's an even congested area? Alas, it appears that the Tom Cleverley we saw add to some brilliant build up play at Wembley may never come back.
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