Upon the retirement of Paul Scholes the football world wondered whom Sir Alex Ferguson would find to replace Manchester United’s greatest ever playmaker.
Wesley Sneijder, Luka Modric, Samir Nasri; only some of the world’s best creative midfielders were deemed good enough to even be linked with the role of replacing Scholes. So anyone that claims they knew Tom Cleverley could be Manchester United’s new passing midfielder is lying. Yet now after signing a new four year contract there is not anyone more likely to be the long term successor to Scholes.
Not Cleverley himself, not any United fan and probably not even Sir Alex Ferguson could imagine that the 22 year old from Bradford would fit into a central midfield position in quite the way he has. Remember, this is a player that had spent the entirety of his career up to this point as a winger, playing for the likes of Leicester City, Watford and Wigan. Yet it was clear after a few games in pre-season that Cleverley possessed all the ability to play in the engine-room for United, at least to Sir Alex if not anyone else.
Granted, after just five games for United it is far from a given that Cleverley will even last the four years that he has just committed to the club. However, the faith that Ferguson has shown in him, coupled with his performances, can not be ignored.
In the Community Shield when United were 2-0 down to arch rivals Man City it was Cleverley that Ferguson introduced, looking for him to change the tempo, which he duly did. From thereon Cleverley went on to start every one of United’s next four games, the run only being brought to an abrupt end by a Kevin Davies.
Somehow Ferguson, the absolute genius that he is, spotted during United’s pre-season American tour that Cleverley has the close-control, the awareness and the energy to be a modern central midfielder. He has shown himself to be a midfielder that demands the ball, plays it quick and always makes himself available for the next pass. It is this modern style to his play that makes him stand out among others. His approach has a hint of the Spanish tiki-taka style of play.
Whilst many would think Cleverley is competing with Anderson for the role of United’s pass-master Ferguson has been happy to place the two together, with both their best displays coming alongside each other in attacking games against Tottenham and Arsenal. Anderson has started coming into his own after a few years where it seemed his progress had plateaued. The Brazilian has shown an ability to carry the ball through gaps in the midfield and spread play, complimenting Cleverley’s approach of playing short and quick.
Obviously, the two have defensive deficiencies that may hinder the two ever becoming a solid pairing in a 4-4-2, but in a 4-3-3 the two could be just what United need to overtake the only team better than them in recent years; Barcelona.
Barcelona, for all the genius of Lionel Messi,, are made by the fluidity and understanding that stems from the midfield partnership of Xavi and Andre Iniesta. The two go wherever they like on the pitch, forming triangles and literally running rings around opposition. The inter-changing and pace of United’s early season play, when Cleverley was at the hub of it, had everyone making the obvious comparison to the current European champions.
In terms of being a replacement for Scholes, Cleverley will probably never reach that class, lacking the goal-scoring instinct or long-range passing that Scholes had. However, Michael Carrick certainly lacked a lot of Roy Keane’s attributes but that did not stop him becoming a more than adequate replacement for the inspirational Irishman, becoming a starter in a team that has won four leagues and gone to three European Cup finals.
Cleverley has worked hard, applying himself in the lower leagues to get his chance at United, now fitting in perfectly. It only took four starts for him to be given a four year contract. Surely that is enough of an indication to show the United faithful that Ferguson is thinking Cleverley for the future.
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