Tom Cleverley has felt the full force of Reds’ frustration, as Manchester United fans clamber to scapegoat someone, or even seek to earmark a trip of scapegoats, including Ashley Young. Fans aplenty are literally endeavouring to master the science, perhaps even aspiring to an MSc(apegoat.) And yes, I’m labeling scapegoating as a science as opposed to an art purely so that it fits my pun.
Apropos our beloved Reds, I ordinarily adhere to that classic United mantra of looking “on the bright side of life.” I’m generally not one for scapegoating a single individual, but I am intermittently culpable. When I catch myself being excessively critical towards one man, I tend to reign myself in.
But, whilst I invariably attempt to arrive at a bright verdict, I do have eyes that see things, and then subsequently communicate with my brain via untold billions of synapses and nerve-endings, relaying information and leaving my mind to process this into quasi-coherent thoughts.
As a consequence, I’ve personally come to the conclusion that Ashley Young, whilst sporadically showcasing a moderate improvement, quite simply isn’t good enough. Yes, he has moments – minutes – when he looks slightly better. Credit where it’s due, he contributed significantly versus Cardiff City in one of his rare impressive performances, but Young couldn’t be any bloody worse. He originally struck me as an underwhelming signing, and less than a handful of ensuing games have persuaded me otherwise.
I don’t really apportion too much blame on Ashley for this. Young looked handy in the Midlands, but it’s a different ball game playing for Aston Villa. Some, like Dwight Yorke, make the upward transition seamlessly; others don’t, and I think Ashley has struggled with the enormity of playing for United at times.
Tom Cleverley, as someone recently dubbed him, is a “continuity” player. He’s there on the field, he makes up the numbers. He’s neither good nor bad, he’s nondescript, and he’s fond of playing it simple. Cleverley can retain possession, but he offers little of tangible value. I’d rather have a 70 per cent match-fit Darren Fletcher than a 110 per cent in-form – whatever that means – Cleverley.
But I do disagree with Reds tweeting that they dislike everything about him. Come on, his hair isn’t that bad. Someone countered this assertion by affirming that modeling his style on Alex Büttner is arguably his biggest sin. These naysayers were being overly-harsh; surely it was Tom who pioneered that ‘do?’ The fact this was even being discussed on Twitter says it all.
It’s certainly not beyond the realms of possibility that Cleverley could prove most of us wrong. Instances abound of players turning it around on the field, thereby subverting the fans’ negative perceptions.
Extreme examples exist. Darren Fletcher went from allegations of nepotism – Darren as Sir Alex Ferguson’s lovechild – and Fergie picking his son as the solitary viable explanation for his inclusion, à la Sunday footy – to being the man whose absence cost United the ’09 Champions League. That, amigos, epitomizes a turnaround.
But admittedly it can be difficult for even the most red-lensed of fans to discern what Cleverley actually does on a football field. My sympathy does rest with him though; he’s barely been rested during a period of restlessness amongst the Old Trafford faithful. Cleverley has been been propelled into the regular first-team line-up, when perhaps his substantive caliber doesn’t warrant the berth.
I spotted a stat recently that the midfielder started eight games in 23 days towards the back end of last year. For even the finest and fittest of players, in a winning set-up, this would prove a challenge. A dearth of confidence compounds the situation, and a vicious circle is engendered.
Cleverley can undoubtedly be a useful squad player, though I fear that pointing out any redeeming features about Tom are essentially superfluous. People have made up their minds, and he’ll most likely continue to be scapegoated. Heck, it’s probably even Cleverley’s fault United lost at Chelsea.
I would have loved the patent coupling of adverb and past participle within the headline “Cleverley Done” to have carried overridingly positive connotations. Alas, I fear it’ll be the widespread headline when he’s ousted from the club; an inauspicious double entendre.
Whilst Cleverley may be the G.O.A.T (Greatest Of All Time) scapeGOAT, and Young is both literally and metaphorically often the fall guy for United’s woes, there are other perennial whipping boys at Old Trafford.
Patrice Evra seldom eludes vilification. I love Evra’s passion for a great club. But when not completely neglecting the art of defending, he has more concentration lapses than an ADHD goldfish, invariably guilty of conceding at least one gilt-edge chance per game.
It doesn’t particularly help that Evra’s deputy left-back hasn’t ingratiated himself at Old Trafford. Perhaps because it’s all too easy to mistake Büttner for Cleverley from a distance in the stands. Alex’ cross for United’s FA cup goal versus Swansea City was world class, which leads me to think that he could make a handy left-winger if he develops into a more competent all-round footballer.
Meanwhile, Antonio ‘Toni’ Valencia has returned to some semblance of his former one-dimensional self. His time at the club can be encapsulated seasonally: effective one-trick pony, injured, ineffective no-trick Toni. In-between one-trick pony and no-trick Toni, a sort of hybrid half-a-trick unicorn perhaps? Valencia certainly has a phobia of being on the inside of things; there’s probably a word for that.
But one thing I spotted on his Twitter account that endeared him to me was his defiant message in the face of United’s recent travails: “In my vocabulary there is no word surrender.” How can you not love Toni when he’s quasi-quoting the Rocky IV anthem?
United bought Marouanne Fellaini to knock down a few headers onto the more talented, more vertically challenged players buzzing around his knees, but the only thing the Belgian has been knocking down so far is the price of his wigs outside Old Trafford. Yet, to be utilized in his best position, he’s proven so underwhelming that I’d even shaved my novelty Afro within a fortnight to produce the Ashley Young ‘do.
Despite the fact that his first forward pass versus Sunderland in second leg of cup was his penalty, Fletch’s form since returning, all things considered, is nothing short of phenomenal. There was a time, circa ’06, when seeing the midfield partnership of Fletch and Michael Carrick on the team sheet would great dishearten me. More recently, it’s flippin’ delighted me.
Most of the players I cite above are relatively established players at the club. I’m not one to formulate a hasty opinion. Nor am I one of those Reds who loves my criticisms to be vindicated. Bugger that, I’d much rather be proven wrong, and consume a portion of self-served humble pie.
This was instantiated with everyone’s darling Mancunian Danny Welbeck. I’ve been willing him to silence my aspersions, and I equally reveled in him doing so. I hold my hands up – there was a marked improvement when Welbeck was consistently deployed in his natural attacking berth. I had questioned his finishing ability, an attribute I believe to depend more upon nature than nurture.
But footy fans are frequently culpable of short memories, and most were disregarding Welbeck’s prolificness at Sunderland prior to injury curtailing his flow. All his recent finishes have proven instinctive, Andy Cole-esque in the fashion he thrives on a snapshot chance as opposed to having time to dwell on a finish. The penalty versus Sunderland is a case in point.
And as with Danny, I’d even love for Young to go on to become a world-beater. But as I said, I’m not a person prone to delusion.
It’d be remiss of me to pontificate on the discourse of United scapegoats without alluding to the primary subject of criticism – fall man(ager) numero uno – Señor David Moyes. How I’d love to hear some of David’s private conversations with his missus – nothing sexual you filthy animals – just to learn his innermost thoughts during these testing times.
The poor fella. When he’s not being publicly backed by Robbie Savage, his every solitary word and gesture is being painstakingly psychoanalysed. Moyes’ tone and rhetoric intimates that he may still carry a modicum of the Everton mindset, but surely this is to be expected following a decade at the club.
I, of course, hope he progressively inherits the frame of mind of a big club manager, but in its own way it’s admirable that he isn’t giving it the ‘Barry McGuigan’ on the back of someone else’s success. Then he’d be lambasted for a false sense of self-importance – a he “can’t do right for doing wrong” sort of scenario. I haven’t dug up any old footage to buttress my hypothesis, but I’m sure it took Sir Alex some years and success before he developed some of his gall and gumption as an interviewee.
Anyway, I’ll leave the Moyes debate for a separate forthcoming article.
Having enumerated a catalogue of alleged culprits who’ve bore the brunt of Reds’ blues, I’m going to conclude on a decidedly positive note. It is at moments like these that I like to recall the beautiful words of Maya Angelou: “God puts rainbows in the clouds so that each of us – in the dreariest and most dreaded moments – can see a possibility of hope.” And oh, how rainbows abound.
The tantalizing prospect of world class quartet – Wayne Rooney, Robin van Persie, Adnan Januzaj, Juan Mata – playing the beautiful game in harmony. Adnan is a resplendent multi-coloured semi-circle of sheer joy; Rooney’s renewed vigour has been another rainbow; Rafael da Silva’s continued progress; Phil Jones’ Robbo-esque midfield presence; Fletch’s return to health. They’re all great big bloody marvelous rainbows.
Follow Jonathan on Twitter – @JonathanShrager