Tom Cleverley – The “other” Chosen One

Cast your mind back a couple of years. It was the start of the 2011/12 season and United found themselves 2-0 down at halftime in the Community Shield against City. Sir Alex made three substitutions for the start of the second half: off went Ferdinand, Vidic and Carrick; on came Jones, Evans and Cleverley who settled into the midfield alongside Anderson.

I invite you to watch that second-half performance from United’s young midfield against the three-man Manchester City midfield of Toure, Milner and De Jong. The fluidity and high-tempo passing instigated by Cleverley and Anderson is a joy to behold and led the Guardian’s Daniel Taylor to write that Cleverley had “staked a strong claim for Carrick’s place in the team“. The equalising goal scored by Nani was as good a team goal as you are ever likely to see and Tom Cleverley was at the centre of it.

tom-cleverley-and-rio-ferdinand

Sir Alex clearly saw something that he liked because Cleverley and Anderson were the starting midfield pairing for United when the Premier League kicked off against West Brom. And in those games – before Cleverley succumbed to injury – many of us saw what we thought was the future of United’s midfield. The run included 3-0 at home to Tottenham, 5-0 away to Bolton and I’m sure you haven’t forgotten the 8-2 hammering of Arsenal.

Michael Carrick, as talented as he is, does not lend himself to a high-tempo, short passing game as this requires power and mobility which are not among his leading attributes. I have no problem with players passing sideways as long as they immediately move forwards to create some space and look to collect the ball further up the pitch. Carrick passes sideways and more-often-than-not moves sideways or backwards in order to “always be available”. This means that he is always on the ball and appears to be pivotal to United’s play. In actual fact Carrick is a luxury player who demands a three-man midfield to accommodate his languid style of play. He may be capable of beautiful, raking passes to the flanks but his slowing of the midfield game really hampers United in the Premier League.

Michael Carrick in action for Manchester United

Tom Cleverley needs to play alongside another mobile player with good technical ability and had Tom not limped off the pitch after making an unwanted acquaintance with the boot of Bolton’s Kevin Davies then who knows how that season would have ended. The breaking up of Cleverley and Anderson in midfield led Sir Alex to try a plethora of different midfield pairings that year in search of the magic that he had found in the second half of the Community Shield.

The Tom Cleverley that we are seeing this season does not represent the ability of that player but instead it is a player who does not know what he is supposed to do, where he is supposed to be on the pitch and has no confidence at all. This is not Fergie’s Cleverley; it is Moyes’ Cleverley. Don’t underestimate the effect that a manager and their tactics can have on a player’s performances on the pitch.

wayne-rooney-vs-arsenal

Different players are affected to differing degrees by confidence. Some players, like Wayne Rooney, are not too affected and only suffer a small drop in the quality of their performances. Recently, this has culminated in Rooney appearing to be “the only good player in a crap team” because whilst he is still playing below his normal standard, in contrast to how far the rest of the team have fallen he looks like a footballing God. At the other end of the spectrum is Tom Cleverley, a very gifted midfield player who is gasping for air in the toxic atmosphere of low confidence that permeates the dressing room.

You only have to watch him in possession of the ball this season. He looks up to find that Carrick has retreated to the edge of the United area and our wide players are standing happily behind their markers offering him nowhere to go. So he gives the ball to Carrick and moves forward at which point Carrick has no-one to pass to so Cleverley is forced to retreat to a position that offers the statue of Michael Carrick an option. So he takes the ball back from Carrick who stands still or moves sideways and the whole situation begins afresh like Groundhog Day.

david moyes

From what I have seen of Moyes’ tactics, Michael Carrick fits much better with his “what we have we hold” mentality and Carrick’s lack of mobility may be under direct instruction from the manager. Don’t get me wrong, Carrick has never been a highly mobile player but this season he sometimes struggles to get moving again because the grass has started growing into his boots.

So before you write off Tom Cleverley, spare a memory for the 2011/12 season because I believe that we saw the future trajectory of that player in those five games and the player that we see today is the manifestation of him being shoe-horned into a system that doesn’t suit his style of play coupled with a devastating lack of confidence.

david-moyes-the-chosen-one

As supporters, we seem hellbent on supporting “The Chosen One” with no prima facie evidence to support our trust, based instead on the lone assertion of Sir Alex Ferguson. Personally, I need a little more evidence than the say-so of a man who was sometimes wrong, no matter how successful he was as United manager. Yet we have turned on a 24yr old player who has demonstrated (admittedly somewhat sporadically) that he has the talent to sit in an incredibly exciting United midfield.

For me, Tom Cleverley is simply 2014’s Darren Fletcher. Lest we forget that Darren “stepchild of Fergie” Fletcher was the United scapegoat of yesteryear. When things go wrong we find someone to blame and this season Tom is the “other” Chosen One.

What are your views on Tom Cleverley? Comment in the section below.

18 Comments

  1. Spot on, I feel sorry for the lad. I think Fergie played his part in the confidence side of things, Cleverly got back from injury and hot back in the team and within a couple of games had been called in to the England squad which is when Fergie started his grounding act dropping him when he had played well etc. sir Matt would be ashamed of our fans the way they have turned on one of our youth players.

  2. Good article.. I remember that match and have been remembering every time I hear him being bashed.. the truth of it is that he played well but never rediscovered his form even with Ferguson still as the manager..I think in reality he us above average but probably too old to cut it at its.. Beckham and scholes had same rate of development at 19-20.. this kids 26 now.
    I do however blame Moyes aka Bart Simpson for his total demise. Moyes is playing his safe Everton brand and that will guarantee top six.. he does not play through the middle, rather using the middle as defence and a route to pass to wingers or full backs.. do you guys know that there has been only 2 assists from midfield all year with the majority from wingers, fullbacks and strickers creating their own chances..

    Like djember djember, William prunier, kleberson et al, fergie backed the wrong horse except that he has made a hole for himself as man its don’t sack managers….its got rid of the above including veron and forlan in the end..somethings are not meant to be.. veron and forlan were great players who just could not pull it off..Moyes is an average Joe who did not have enough in his locker to cut it at utd

    For me, writing on the wall was when he brought in the nobodies and then sacked our coaching staff. Moyes out! Vote with your feet and don’t go to the city game!

  3. Part of the problem for Cleverly is that he’s being played as a holding midfielder when it is opposite of his natural. Cleverly naturally plays a high tempo high up the pitch pressing game without the ball and a quick 2 touch pass and go game with the ball. Moyes has him waiting for the opposition come to his zone and then keep possession usually as the piece says to old 5 touch Carrick.

  4. 100% agree! Excellent article. Without doubt Cleverley is Utd’s best central midfielder he’s just low on confidence. Carrick is pathetic & highly overrated by both Moyes & SAF. Fletcher is in the same boat. Cleverley just needs a more capable passer. If a player like Rothwell, Powell or Pearson were alongside him he would excel. They share his attributes. They are tenacious, fluid mids who can play the game at a high tempo. What’s let Cleverley down is his midfield partner & the tactics employed by the fool hardy Moyes!

  5. Crap players like moyesdarlings welbeck, fellaini, smalling and young are the problems,none these guys are good enough yet are still here when should be gone…. Talentless all of them yet their here because all four are Moyes pets.

    Chicharito should play ahead of welmoyes, fellaini shouldn’t even be here,smalling and young don’t even measure up as decent cover to data and januzaj.

    Summer should see Moyes gone, welbeckgone the other three gone and there like of round andlumsden gone.

  6. It is disgusting that one player should be taking the majority of flack from so called supporters and now it is spreading to his inclusion in the England team.
    The press are as much to blame, Cleverley’s ‘job’, as others, will be laid down by Moyes & tutored by the coaching staff, if they fail so will he. Unfortunately he is now under the microscope and he will fear making a mistake which will stifle any natural talent. I hope he does get a run out with the England team and turns in an outstanding display which would then turn the focus back to where the failure in the MU team is really coming from.

  7. Cleverly–oh cleverly, where has thou un-cleverly passed thy confidence to!..time to get it back..1st artice am comenting on a rare piece..Nice 1

  8. Just a shit player who is a liability to the entire middle part of the team., Moyes should let him fly to sunderland since he belongs there

  9. Yer I feel sorry for the guy, ruined by Moyes’s tactics and poor man management skills. I thought this was going to be Tom’s season this season but now not so until dithering Dave has gone.

  10. Gud article very true only thing I want as a die hard united fan is…..#Moyesout#Smallingout#welbeckout#youngout#valenciaout#CLEVERLYout#…..Not just gud 4 united.

  11. Remembering back to that warm Wembley day in 2011, when the halftime changes were made I too thought we were seeing a sign of the future with the end of Carrick and co. Cleverley had an excellent game and was selected to play for England against Holland three days later. Unfortunately the game was called off because of the riots and he didn’t debut then. However he definitely looked the goods.

    Moyes and his staff are the real problem at United and until they go, i am loath to get stuck into Cleverley too much. A different, better manager than Moyes could still get decent performances out of him.

  12. I’m so glad I found fellow mancpressing. ited supprters who feel that carrick was and is an extremely average player.Building our team around him has beem one of the major reasons for our inability to adapt to the fast paced dynamic highly technical modern game. His one main attribute is that he can pass the ball well. However, he can only do thiss when acres of time and space, both of which are extremely rare in the modern game. He falls short in every other attribute that makes a very good central midfielder. Agility, understanding of space, game intelligence, shooting, vision, stamina, abity to play key passes, carrying the ball out the back, closing down angles and space, pressing. Its no coincidence that the midfield has been chopping and changing while he has been a mainstay. As the author pointed out so well, the man is statuesque and needs to be dead still when playing a pass. He often kills the forward momentum and one two’s are like kryptonite to him. His one touch football, something so critical in modern football, invloves either back passes to the keeper or sideways passes that offer nothing to the game. He cant shoot, he cant dribble, he can’t header, he doesn’t play through balls, he barely makes any key passes, he is not box to box, he can’t tackle, he can’t press, he is not agile, he always goes missing in tough and big games. So what exactly does he contribute to the team other than “retaining possession”.
    Insult to Roy Keane that this man got his number

  13. This article is billiant. I really don’t get why it is only him who gets the stick following recent performances where most and sometimes all of the players have been bad. Tom is a good player and I wish Moyes would let him be a attacking midfielder not holding.

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