Tom Cleverley

Cleverley’s challenge

Cristiano Ronaldo arguably scored his greatest goal for Manchester United  against Porto in 2009. It was a fantastic strike from forty yards out, but Ronaldo’s movement must not be overlooked; the forward had made the ‘false nine’ role his own during that season, dropping off the front to find the space and time needed to line up that shot.

Anderson, however, was credited with an assist for making a five-yard lateral pass to the Portuguese. There really is no way of differentiating a ‘good’ assist from a ‘bad’ assist from a statistical point of view. Beauty in this case is very much in the eye of the beholder.

Spurred on by Michael Lewis’ excellent Moneyball, just about every club of note, in all sports, now boasts a data analysis department, and analysts differ wildly on how they evaluate players and tactics.

Statistics can be beguiling. Wayne Rooney, for example, has enjoyed two exemplary seasons in terms of goals and assists, but his performances have been subpar at best. Take Paul Scholes in recent seasons – he epitomises imagination and creativity in his passing, but his assist statistic is dwarfed by Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard.

So in judging Tom Cleverley, should one look beyond the meager five assists and two goals he has managed since his introduction to the Manchester United first team in 2011? After all, he has mainly been deployed deep in central midfield where opportunities for killer balls and shots are limited. Although Michael Carrick, who plays deeper still, has racked up five assists and two goals in each of past two seasons.

In the 23-year-old’s Cleverley’s defense Carrick played a lot more often. Still, it is hard to picture Cleverley in the first team. While his stamina and work-rate are commendable, the Basingstoke-born player’s injury proneness is notorious. His height and muscularity offer little in the way of physical strength and he is not particularly quick.

In fact, Cleverley’s lack of speed greatly limits his potential on the wings. He simply doesn’t have the pace to succeed as a traditional winger in the mold of Antonio Valencia. Yet, he has been used on the left by Sir Alex Ferguson and at Wigan and Watford as an inverted winger.

During the two seasons in which Cleverley was deployed in wide roles he managed a goal per roughly ten shots – in line with Ashley Young or Antonio Valencia’s record. It begs a question, with stamina, a great tactical mind and willingness to work hard, could Cleverley can become another Ji-sung Park?

Given Cleverley’s ability on the ball, he also remains a decent option on the wings as an inverted winger directly attacking the defenders or, like Ryan Giggs, used to retain possession.Yet, with reinforcements likely this summer it is hard to see Cleverley breaking into the first team on the flanks.

Indeed, Cleverley’s ability on the ball is excellent. Schooled by Rene Meulensteen, he controls the ball well in tight quarters and engages in high tempo short passing game. This has placed him at the tip of the England national team midfield. The Englishman perhaps lacks incision in the traditional number 10, vis-à-vis penetrative through balls, but makes up for it by setting up one-twos. Crucially, he quickens the pace of the game.

David Moyes had emphasised quick transition during his time at Everton. Quick transition, as practiced by Real Madrid and Dortmund, is essentially long-ball football played on the ground. The Scot, who set up his Everton teams to concentrate playing in the opposition half, might greatly appreciate Tom Cleverley if it wasn’t for Shinji Kagawa’s presence in the United squad.

At Dortmund, Kagawa was often excused from all defensive duties and allowed to concentrate on sniffing out spaces to launch counterattacks. Jurgen Klopp, unlike Ferguson, had the Japanese run onto the ball – at United, the players pass the ball into Kagawa’s feet. With the ball in front of him, Kagawa just needs to apply the final touch. When the ball is coming to his feet, Kagawa has to twist and turn before making his move.

Kagawa epitomises quick transition football as practiced by Dortmund and there is every chance that Moyes will see the Japanese as key should the incoming United manager decide to continue with his football philosophy. This means that Cleverley will not be claiming the central attacking midfield spot as his own.

Moyes is also fanatical about width. Rafael da Silva and Patrice Evra are excellent attacking full-backs and there is every chance that the former Everton manager will allow them to push forward and overload the flanks.

But with two attacking full-backs, United’s central midfield will be set up more defensively. Rafael Benitez, who probably knows more about 4-2-3-1 than any other manager on the planet, argues that with “offensive full-backs, you have to find that right balance. [You need two holding midfielders].”

There is very little point in deploying Cleverley as a defensive midfielder for the Englishman is all about movement and tempo. With Carrick there to provide quick, incisive balls to the wingers and full-backs, Cleverley will be redundant.

In the past season Rooney has shouldered a lot of ball winning responsibilities and allowed Ferguson to field two passers in the middle. Should Rooney leave the club, and Kagawa offered an important role, United will need a genuine defensive player in midfield to partner Carrick.

With the squad set up more or less for 4-2-3-1, Moyes will probably ‘go with the flow’ and make just minor changes to the football philosophy. After all, it’s foolhardy to impose something totally different on a successful squad used to doing things a certain way.

This is bad news for Cleverley. His versatility is admirable, but ultimately he is a jack of all trades rather than a bona fide master of any. Barring drastic changes on Moyes’ part, Cleverley will not cement a first team place next season.

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Comments

  1. Pikey McScumPikey McScum says

    Just when you thought it couldn’t get any worse…

    Ed – seriously mate, why do you allow this bollocks on the forum?

  2. Dayus D red says

    Unless cleverley improves drastically, he will always be a squard player. A midfield player is more than just pass and move. That is what he does presently. He should learn how to carry the ball and beat his man. The one/two touches though desirable, but he needs more than that to be a successful MF. Just watch Wilshere plays.

  3. Clivew says

    Wilshere? He’s done nothing so far in his career! Except got injured. I like cleverley, if he is given a proper run in the first team I think he’ll do well. But he hasn’t yet been given that chance.

  4. AnantaxAnantax says

    Never having seen Dortmund play last season…is the paragraph copy pasted below true? If so would explain some things….

    Jurgen Klopp, unlike Ferguson, had the Japanese run onto the ball – at United, the players pass the ball into Kagawa’s feet. With the ball in front of him, Kagawa just needs to apply the final touch. When the ball is coming to his feet, Kagawa has to twist and turn before making his move

  5. Alfonso BedoyaAlfonso Bedoya says

    Commenter said:
    Wilshere? He’s done nothing so far in his career! Except got injured. I like cleverley, if he is given a proper run in the first team I think he’ll do well. But he hasn’t yet been given that chance.

    Manchester United is SUPPOSED to be a world class club, with aspirations to compete at the highest level… whether or not you believe we’re meeting those goals…(I don’t)… whatever, Cleverly will never be the midfielder that such a club needs, to compete with the top teams… he’d be a starter for most PL teams, but he’d never get into the starting 11 of City or Arsenal, and he wouldn’t even make the bench of Chelsea, Real, Barca or Bayern… and it’s gone well past ridiculous that United continues to ignore the midfield, and try to get by with his level of player… for United he should be nothing more than a squaddie.

    “Badges, to god-damned hell with badges! We have no badges. In fact, we don’t need badges. I don’t have to show you any stinking badges, you god-damned cabrón and ching’ tu madre! Come out from that shit-hole of yours. I have to speak to you.”

    • ForeverRed says

      The question is if Cleverely is the best the academy has produced in the last 5 years or so (along with Welbeck), can it be depended on to supply talent that carries us to the top levels of the European game? If not, what’s going on? It’s all very well us producing players for mid table teams, but where are the future world class players? I would also guess that our academy is among the best in the country, which doesn’t bode well for the nurturing of top talent in the UK in general.

    • Will says

      Agreed. Cleverley isn’t up to scratch and at 23 going on 24 isn’t about to come into bloom, I would suggest. Sell this summer (although we won’t) and we’d get 10-15 million (a neat ROI) what with his England career on the ascendancy (even if, in reality, it isn’t).

  6. zac lazari says

    Absolute truth, cleverleys a very predictable player with not much creation in his play, just a basic passer and lower orem level at best. Dont know why fergie ever gave him a chance

  7. says

    Cleverley seems to have quality, but he just isn’t incisive enough with his passing, which is his major attribute. He needs to be more direct or else he’ll just be another average midfielder.

  8. sheesh says

    We were all bumming him 2 years ago, lest we all forget. He just needs to grow a pair and not keep going missing.

  9. Alfonso BedoyaAlfonso Bedoya says

    sheesh said:
    We were all bumming him 2 years ago, lest we all forget. He just needs to grow a pair and not keep going missing.

    Speak for yourself… I never rated him any higher than a squaddie.

    “Badges, to god-damned hell with badges! We have no badges. In fact, we don’t need badges. I don’t have to show you any stinking badges, you god-damned cabrón and ching’ tu madre! Come out from that shit-hole of yours. I have to speak to you.”

  10. Alfonso BedoyaAlfonso Bedoya says

    Commenter said:
    Absolute truth, cleverleys a very predictable player with not much creation in his play, just a basic passer and lower orem level at best. Dont know why fergie ever gave him a chance

    He was worth a chance… and he got a chance… and he’s shown that he’s a good player… but he’s not good enough… that’s all…

  11. sheesh says

    He’s had one full season after the previous one was disrupted by injury. Bit harsh to say he’s not good enough. He’s still young and he might get better.
    His performance against City in the Charity Shield at the start of the 2011/12 season was class and showed what he is capable of.
    If you remember, we played some good football at the start of that season and then it all changed after we got smashed 1-6 by City at Old Trafford. After that day, our mindset seemed to change. Cleverley was a key part of the good football we were playing prior to the derby.
    I don’t think we should rely on him to come good at the expense of signing a top class midfielder, though. We’ve already gone down that route with Anderson.

  12. Coach Herbie says

    I told you all before that Cleverley , Wellbeck and Young are not of United quality. We need world class players to compete with the top clubs in Europe.
    We need to clear out this garbage. And whats really bad is how we treated Pogba. He has turned out to be a world class product at Juventas so much so that now Arsense Wenger wants to bring him to Arsenal. This is some bullshit.

  13. captainhormonecaptainhormone says

    Commenter said:
    I told you all before that Cleverley , Wellbeck and Young are not of United quality. We need world class players to compete with the top clubs in Europe.
    We need to clear out this garbage. And whats really bad is how we treated Pogba. He has turned out to be a world class product at Juventas so much so that now Arsense Wenger wants to bring him to Arsenal. This is some bullshit.

    Haven’t you somewhere got some cones to pick up mike?

    Ffs

    The futures black..the futures Welbeck!

  14. Brown says

    you said the same thing about Darren fletcher and you were proven wrong. Please let the boy be. He was doing well early part of last season before he sustained an injury. he will only get better with time.

  15. Alfonso BedoyaAlfonso Bedoya says

    Commenter said:
    you said the same thing about Darren fletcher and you were proven wrong. Please let the boy be. He was doing well early part of last season before he sustained an injury. he will only get better with time.

    What the hell are you talking about?
    Look… I hate to see anyone suffer,(unless their name is Cameron, Osborne, Glazer), and I sincerely hope Fletcher finds a cure for what’s giving him the shits… but honestly, I hope I never see him on the pitch in a United shirt again.

    “Badges, to god-damned hell with badges! We have no badges. In fact, we don’t need badges. I don’t have to show you any stinking badges, you god-damned cabrón and ching’ tu madre! Come out from that shit-hole of yours. I have to speak to you.”

  16. uncleknobheadffsuncleknobheadffs says

    tbf fletcher worked his bollocks off to go from a shite player to an average one

    cleverleys already an average one so hes doing alright, theres nothing special about him though, hes just a bits and pieces player

  17. bebe party bus says

    I find it quite unbelievable that so many people are getting on the back of a player that has only completed his first, full injury-free season at the club as a senior player. Cleverley, for the most part of the season was consistent and was a great out ball for the rest of the team. His close control of the ball and technical ability are unlike anything seen by any other midfielders produced by the academy since Scholes, which owes a level of thanks to Meulensteen and the work he’s done with him from a young age/

    What Cleverley needs to improve on moving forward and rightly pointed out here is his incisiveness, ability to play more penetrating balls ala Carrick this season. Also, he needs to improve on his movement in and around the box as he has the energy to become a box-to-box midfielder and add goals to his game.

    In regards to not fitting in, he could well take over the mantle from Michael Carrick in years to come, who is getting on quite a bit and wont have many 40+ seasons like he did this year.

    As a side comment, the variant of 4-3-2-1 often employed by Benitez as mentioned in the article seems to be quickly changing, with more emphasis now on the defensive responsibility of the no.10, as seen in Bayerns performance against Barcelona this season. As a result, no real need for ‘two holding players’, as the pressing comes from the front. No coincidence that less-defensive no.10s like Sneijder have been marginalized in the top level of the game.

  18. Pikey McScumPikey McScum says

    Commenter said:
    His close control of the ball and technical ability are unlike anything seen by any other midfielders produced by the academy since Scholes

    Your user name speaks volumes…

  19. Alfonso BedoyaAlfonso Bedoya says

    I wouldn’t sell Cleverly, unless he wants to leave… he’s good enough, and versatile enough to be a decent squaddie… I just don’t want him to be one of our first 11.

  20. RobDiabloRobDiablo says

    Alfonso Bedoya said:
    I wouldn’t sell Cleverly, unless he wants to leave… he’s good enough, and versatile enough to be a decent squaddie… I just don’t want him to be one of our first 11.

    I agree. I’d also like to see him not playing for England, especially as a ’10′; it seems to confuse the boy.

  21. kramer says

    wouldn’t want him to leave at all. he showed some great potential and played like a proper playmaker when he was coming through, and seemed to have an eye for goal as well. dunno whether it was the injury or pressure, but this season he seemed to regress. regardless, i think he’s done enough to stay on, and he’s one from the academy as well.

  22. bman says

    Alfonso Bedoya said:
    I wouldn’t sell Cleverly, unless he wants to leave… he’s good enough, and versatile enough to be a decent squaddie… I just don’t want him to be one of our first 11.

    I agree, plus he’s still improving. I don’t think it’s that crazy for him to be an intermittent starter for England or United, since he’s a good disciplined all-rounder that can help tie a team together into an effective unit. Year after year England picks its midfield based on the PR profile of available players, and year after year the result just fundamentally doesn’t work. Picking 11 stars is only a good idea if you happen to have a star for every position, which basically no international side does except perhaps now for Germany (Spain haven’t really got a striker these days).

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