Alan Moore, Not A Patch On Harry Lyon. Tom Cleverley.

I’ll probably go to my grave ever so slightly annoyed that Preston got first goes on David Beckham. Ok, we’d had Keith Gillespie on loan a couple of years earlier but he never announced his arrival on the big stage with a goal from the half way line, become England’s most capped outfield player or marry a Spice Girl. They might have started out being lent out to pokey little local lower division sides but the difference now is stark, just as Beckham is starting to see the fruit of his multi-million dollar American Adventure, Keith started the season scraping around for a game in his attempt to bounce back from bankruptcy.

If that seems like digression from the subject of Tom Cleverley then look again. There’s two clear points to be made here. One that there are North End fans out there who still gloat about their part in the DB23 story and, perhaps more importantly for readers of this blog, it doesn’t matter how good someone is as a kid, you just never know how things are going to turn out. Gillespie was one of (if not the) best players I’d ever seen turn out in a Latics shirt during that loan spell and the last thing that I thought back in 1993 was that we’d see him back, within ten years, on loan again because he was struggling to get a game for Blackburn in the Premier League.

Back then I dare say that only a smattering of Latics fans would have heard about our loanee, now, thanks to Sky and the internet’s pervasive influence and ability to turn us all into football geeks, they know him, have seen him play and have developed their own theories on where exactly Tom Cleverley fits into Latics’ plans for the year ahead. Oh and of course we all know that he’s the new Paul Scholes. So, as he entered stage right for his long awaited (thanks to an international break) début he does so with three times the level of expectancy that faced Gillespie.

Luckily, in his 14 minute cameo against Sunderland, he does alright, by which I mean he looked energetic and got in some good positions, but he did so without looking a real threat, which some would tell you means that he looked like he’d fit right in at the DW stadium. He did manage an assist for our equaliser though, if shanking a shot wide, onto the head of a team-mate counts as an assist these days. For a lot of our fans, those 14 minutes were enough to put a little space between them and the Charles N’Zogbia saga that was still writ large at that time.

It didn’t matter if we lost our most dangerous and creative player, here was Tom to save the day.

Of course there’s many a slip betwixt over excited football fan and getting points on the board and a knock in training put Cleverley out for about a month. A fact that I became aware of as, sat in the prawn butty lounge awaiting kick off in our next game against City a 15 year old looking lad was wheeled in and announced as our loan signing from Manchester United. Fresh faced and polite was the impression that I took home with me along with my programme and a bellyful of free ale.

It was a bad few weeks for him to miss as Latics pulled their way into something approximating form. His turn against Sunderland would probably have got Tom a more pitch time against City (a game that desperately needed some energy, if every there was one) and a guaranteed start in the Carling Cup against Preston. From there who knows, but with draws away to Birmingham and Newcastle, where he made his comeback as a late sub) sandwiching a home victory against Wolves, his absence, probably, made no difference in the bigger, royal blue tinted, picture.

A couple of subs appearances later and Cleverley is ready for his first start in Latics’ colours. Unfortunately for Latics, it’s at the cost of a bad injury to one of our own rising stars, James McCarthy. Still it’s a chance to see what he can do, in that old school Scholes role supporting the strikers (or in our case striker). He’s a bit poor, but significantly less so than some of his colleagues as Latics turn in their worst performance of the season (yes I know we got beat 4-0 and 6-0 early on, but honestly this was the worst).

Not necessarily because of his own performance, Tom took the brunt of that defeat and spent the next game, a trip to Blackburn, on the bench. Whilst Latics played significantly better they still returned pointless. Whether that was behind the selection for the next game, I don’t know, but Cleverley was back in for the home draw (and best performance of the season) against Liverpool and the win against West Brom, starting both games in a wide left position, inter changing with two other attacking midfielders in, essentially, a 4-2-3-1 formation.

So it’s been a lot of chop and change for Tom in his time at Latics, partly because of injury and partly because of form but mostly because of managerial decisions that are out of his control.

This season, more than any we’ve had in the top flight, Latics have something approximating squad depth. At the very least you can look at our bench and see how substitutions can be made to deliberately change the game, rather than just throwing someone on in hope that it will. This has allowed Roberto Martinez to play different line-ups to counter different opponents and situations but it’s also meant that he’s struggled to work out (or at least demonstrate to the fans) what his best eleven is.

Bobby’s decision to start Tom in some tricky games may say more about our other options in certain areas of the pitch, but it shows he obviously has faith in Cleverley. Whether that equates to the lad being a guaranteed starter is another matter. His performances still reflect that early energy and enthusiasm and there’s certainly lots of promise there, even if it hasn’t yet translated into the decisiveness that will come through experience.

If stories are to be believed and Tom wasn’t just dragged into the Wayne Rooney contract episode, it’s likely that he’ll be recalled in January and that we’ll have to see him develop that experience from afar and over a longer period. Which is something of a pity, because I really do think it would come quickly if he stayed and got games. Until then, my over-riding impression of the lad will be from those five minutes he spent in front of a half cut executive suite looking like a frightened rabbit but obviously level-headed, polite and polished at the same time. It may just be me wishing the best for him, but there does seem to be more of the Beckham than Gillespie to him on that front.

Pete Sixsmith, Salut Sunderland. Danny Welbeck.

We have had some very favourable loan deals with Manchester United recently. Jonny Evans played a major part in our promotion under Roy Keane and came back a year later to give us some stability as we secured our Premier League position.

Danny Simpson had a good loan in the Championship, but then lost all credibility when he decided that those on the dark side of the River Tyne were a better club than the one on the sunlit uplands of Wearside.

Add to that two well thought of permanent signings in Kieran Richardson and Frazier Campbell, plus a couple of decent managers in Keane and Steve Bruce and an American owner, and we appear to have close links with the Old Trafford mega club.

The Danny Wellbeck loan was seen as a move forward; we get a good young player for a year, United get a good opportunity to evaluate him and we may get the chance to sign him permanently if things go well. It has to be said that 10 games into the season, Danny had been a wee bit underwhelming. Much of this was not of his making; he had been employed as a wide midfielder on the left in a rather unadventurous 4-5-1 formation. He looked good on the ball and tried to get forward, but he didn’t look anything special. At the Sports Direct @SJP humiliation, he looked timid and frightened by the hostile atmosphere and the likes of Barton, Nolan and Tiote. I thought it was time to test SAF’s hold over Steve Bruce and drop him. Bruce may well have thought the same. Then, lo and behold, Darren Bent pulls a hamstring, Asamoah Gyan starts up front and the management team, having taken on Stoke City with 1 up front, change it for the second half at Spurs, push Welbeck up front and we cause ‘AppyArry and his mates all kinds of problems. Five days later, we go to Stamford Bridge and play Gyan and Welbeck from the start. You know what happened next. He had his best game in our red and white shirt, scored his first goal and showed what a good player he can be. Now he has to do it on a regular basis starting with Everton on Monday night. Expectations will be high and fans will be looking for a repeat of last Sunday. He probably won’t find Jagielka and Distan as accommodating as Ferreira and Ivanovic, but he is up and running and seems full of confidence.

Danny seems a pleasant young man and we hope he continues to impress – but not enough for SAF to re call him.

Carlisle manager, Greg Abbott. Corry Evans.

“We have not seen him as much as we wanted to. He is another young man who has come here with an excellent attitude and he was a pleasure to work with. He will now stay at Old Trafford but he is definitely one that we will continue to monitor.”




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