Last summer, the one thing that provided any consolation to the fact Paul Scholes had retired was that we had young Tom Cleverley ready to make the step up to the first team. The lad has bags of talent and after loans at Leicester, Watford and Wigan, was prepared to make his mark in the Premier League with United.
Cleverley started the season really well, first coming off the bench in the Community Shield victory over City. 2-0 down at half-time, Cleverley started the second half and had a real impact. He provided the assist for what was probably our best goal of the whole season to draw United level.
Cleverley then started all the following league games, including the 8-2 victory over Arsenal and the 3-0 win against Spurs, before getting injured early on after a wreckless Kevin Davies challenge at the Reebok. We had started the season flying, finally having a player (along with the help of Anderson, it has to be said!) other than Paul Scholes who was bossing the midfield. We were gutted that he was injured and the manager clearly was too, which is why he brought him back too soon against Everton six weeks later, only for him to off injured again with less than an hour played. That game, at the end of October, was the last we saw of him in the team until we went to Amsterdam in February.
In this absence, “TC23” was born. Cleverley, who had played a total of five league games for Manchester United, had his own website. Yes, there had been loads of hype about him being “the next Paul Scholes” and there was no denying he had played really well in the opening games of the season, but was a website and brand really necessary? The “TC23 collection” is on it’s way.
Rio Ferdinand has had plenty of stick for all his off field ventures, including “producing” films with Ashley Cole, starting up his own clothing range and bringing out a magazine. Whilst I’ll never be a fan of this sort of thing, at least Rio has had a career to back this nonsense up with and is approaching retirement. He’s had ten years at Manchester United, won five league titles, captained us to European glory in 2008 and has close to 100 caps for England. What has Cleverley done?
The irony is that the player who Cleverley is tipped to replace is the last player who would ever have his own website or “PS18 collection”. It is also puzzling because the impression we’d been given of Cleverley was of a grounded and mature young player, who was in love with the game and who was desperate to make it at United.
Two years ago, Ollie Holt at The Mirror interviewed Cleverley and had nothing but good things to say about him.
There is something about him that tells you he has been at United since he was 11. He is assured, mature, single-minded and happy to make whatever sacrifices he needs to. He grew up in Bradford but the way he speaks makes him sound like a composite of Gary Neville, Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs.
His eyes light up twice. Both times it is something to do with training that brings animation to his features. Cleverley is someone in love with the game.
The first time it is the mention of some YouTube footage he has told the rest of the United first team squad about that makes him smile. The 30-second clip shows the Spain squad training and Valencia’s Juan Mata producing a dazzling piece of skill that involves dragging the ball behind one foot with the other and then nutmegging Real Madrid’s Raul Albiol all in the same movement.
The second time his face comes alive is when Cleverley, who turned 21 last week, talks about training at Carrington with the United first team squad. In particular, he says, watching Scholes and Giggs doing their job and pursuing their art is breathtaking.
Most players who have trained with Scholes, either for United or England, say that. They mention the way he strikes the ball and the joy of watching his technique.
A few hours later, Scholes lofted a perfect pass to Giggs who drove home a volley to seal United’s 3-0 win over Newcastle at Old Trafford.
“It’s the way nothing fazes them, too,” Cleverley says. “You can learn so much from those two. They don’t have to say anything to you. You just have to watch them. It’s their temperament and they take that into the pitch. I have been watching Scholes all through pre-season so it didn’t shock me when he put in a performance like he did in the Community Shield. He is not the type to sit you down and have a heart-to-heart chat with you but he is a great mentor for me.”
Cleverley, like many footballers, has a Twitter account to go with his website. He uses this to talk about football, promote Adidas and give away prizes. Having made the Olympic squad, Cleverley went to Twitter for his reaction.
R_o_M: “Why does @tomclevz23 have to spoil himself with all this brand/website/commersialised shite? Imagine if he shared dressing room with Keane…”
Fair play to Cleverley for responding when it would be far easier to ignore any criticism and just get on with it but rather than styling himself as the next David Beckham, it would be great if he could just get his head down and get on with fulfilling the potential.
I hope it did! If you compare this situation with Danny Welbeck, his good mate at the club, who’s spent the season in Manchester United’s starting XI and now, England’s starting team too, you can see the stark difference. At their age, their only focus needs to be on improving their game and keeping their place in the team.
“Matt Busby summed it up perfectly, that you don’t need to chase money at a club like Manchester United, it will eventually find you,” Ferguson said last season. “If you’re good enough, you will earn money and become rich playing for Manchester United.”
Here’s to Tom Cleverley spending next season in United’s starting XI, bossing games like he did at the start of last season, and leaving “TC23” alone for a while.