During the early and middle stages of this season, Tom Cleverley was one of Ferguson’s first choice central midfielders and alongside Carrick, he began to form a formidable partnership.
Between game weeks 14-26, Cleverley played an impressive 857/1170 Premier League minutes for Manchester United (by comparison, Anderson had 197/1170 minutes) and he was finally starting to look settled in the squad.
And over the season, he has completed 90.3% of his passes (896/992) overall and 90.8% (511) in the opponents half. His natural tendency to bring the ball forward helped spearhead United’s attack from the middle.
Fast forward to April 30. Cleverley starts for the U21s against West Brom having only played 13 minutes of Premier League football in the past six game weeks for United. Some call it a need for Cleverley to get minutes. I agree – but I also look at it from a pessimistic point of view.
What has happened to Cleverley?
I was there at Newcastle when scored that peach of a goal (even if it was a cross) at St James’ Park this season.
Cleverley started to show the kind of form that many fans who had watched him progress over the years hoped he would bring to the first squad. Ferguson challenged him to start adding goals to his game and he did.
But, something has gone wrong for Cleverley. Whether he thinks he has become a United starter too soon or that he is getting distracted with his TC23 antics, something has changed.
There’s no doubt that Cleverley has progressed as a player this season but this period of stagnation worries me.
He is the only player who has started every England game since Euro 2012 under Hodgson and maybe that is something that has worked against him at club level given his injury troubles over the past few years but that doesn’t explain his complete lack of game time.
Cleverley was undoubtedly hailed as the saviour of United’s midfield too early. In the wake of Scholes’ retirement, fans looked at players at the club for an immediate replacement and Cleverley was understandably labelled exactly that given his similarities to the ginger prince – and that pressure may have got to him.
That isn’t to say that he couldn’t make it at United still, he is only 23 after all, but if Ferguson really saw Cleverley as someone to be a staple part of this United team in the future, why would he leave him on the bench for so long when he is fit?
There are plenty of questions surrounding Cleverley right now. With three games left, there is still time for him to make a return to the team this year and I hope that he does.
But if he doesn’t, there are certainly going to be question marks over the short and long term future of Cleverley at United.