23. TOM CLEVERLEY
|Birthdate:||12 Aug 1989|
|Joined United:||01 Jul 2005|
|United Debut:||7 Aug 2011 v Man City (N)|
Tom Cleverley is a highly-rated young midfielder who appreciates that the time has come to pin down a place in the starting line-up.
His clever approach play was a feature of United’s exciting start to the 2011/2012 campaign but a serious foot injury sustained at Bolton kept him out until October and a further setback sidelined him until February. Although becoming an option during the run-in, it is anticipated that involvement at the Olympics will push his fitness back up to peak level. The Basingstoke-born youngster, who has also been in the England squad without being capped, rose through the club’s youth system to become interim Reserves captain, and was nominated for the prestigious Denzil Haroun Reserve Player of the Year award, alongside Sam Hewson and Richard Eckersley during 2007/08. Following a late call-up to join the squad in South Africa during the 2008 pre-season campaign, Cleverley marked his non-competitive debut with a goal as United claimed victory in the Vodacom Challenge final. Just a few weeks later, he was handed the No.35 shirt in the senior squad. The midfielder was named on the bench for United’s League Cup matches against Middlesbrough and Queens Park Rangers at the start of the 2008/09 season, before joining League One outfit Leicester City on loan in January 2009 until the end of the season. Cleverley made his debut for the Foxes at Yeovil the same month, and scored his first goal for them in a 4-1 win at Walsall in February, only for a dislocated shoulder to cut short his spell at the Walkers Stadium. However, in recognition of another promising campaign he was again shortlisted for United’s Reserve Player of the Year award, narrowly missing out to James Chester. Cleverley’s first Old Trafford goal came in United’s pre-season win over Valencia in August 2009. Soon after he moved to Watford on loan, where his magnificent form for Malky Mackay’s side earned him the Hornets’ Player of the Year award. Tom scored 11 times in 33 appearances for a struggling side, and might have had more but for a serious knee injury which curtailed his season-long loan by a month. Despite such a disappointing end to an eye-catching season, Cleverley did not let the setback get him down and, following a return to full fitness, impressed during United’s pre-season tour of North America in July 2010, netting twice. Sir Alex insisted Cleverley was very much part of his plans for the 2010/11 campaign, but with competition for places particularly fierce in midfield, the boss opted to send Tom on a season-long loan to Wigan Athletic on transfer deadline day, believing the experience would most hasten the promising youngster’s football education. He was soon validated, as Cleverley turned in a string of impressive performances and became an integral part of Roberto Martinez’s side as they staged a late-season rally to avoid relegation. It was evident that he was ready for a crack at United’s first team and he was rewarded with a new four-year contract in October 2011, which will keep him at the club until at least the end of the 2014/15 campaign. Shrugging off the bad luck regarding injuries, he is at the stage of his career where it is widely acknowledged he must prove he has the consistency to become a key figure at Old Trafford. Certainly the signs are positive following his performances for Great Britain at the Games as he looks every inch an international-class footballer and will be confident of bringing his neat, positive play back to the United side.