In an interview with Inside United, Sir Alex Ferguson has confirmed that the club is likely to recall Tom Cleverley from his loan with Wigan when the transfer opens in January. The 21-year-old midfielder was sent on loan to the DW Stadium for first team action as he continues to develop, but Cleverley has only featured once for Wigan due to a knee injury. With injuries plaguing the midfield, Cleverley may yet get the chance to prove himself at Old Trafford this season.
Many United fans, including myself, were against the loan believing that Cleverley had the potential to play a significant role in the squad this season. Rarely has such excitement surrounded an Academy graduate in recent years, but the anticipation of Cleverley’s first team debut comes with good reason. The English midfield was one of the highlights in the preseason tour of the United States, scoring arguably the best goal of the tour against the MLS All-Stars.
Speaking with Ben Hibbs for Inside United, Sir Alex provide fans with even more reason to get excited: “Tom’s going to be a great footballer, I really like him. I’ve heard the fans are starting to talk about Tom, and I think they’re right to do that because he could very well be the next top player to come through the ranks.”
There can’t be much higher praise than to have Sir Alex say you are likely to be the next player to come through the ranks. This is, after all, the same man who produced the likes of Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes. Few would disagree that Sir Alex has a skill for identifying promising young talent, and it seems he sees great things for Cleverley.
Although I desperately wanted to see Cleverley in the United first team this season, I concede that the loan move to the DW Stadium was probably the best route for his development. Concerns in midfield have arisen in the early stages of this season, though, and reinforcements such as Cleverley may be required. Antonio Valencia has been sidelined with injury until February at the earliest, creating a lack of depth on the wings. Nani has consequently been moved to the right wing; and the left wing has become a weakness in the squad. Giggs is no longer capable of playing every match, and Park Ji-Sung, while always putting in maximum effort, has struggled for form so far this campaign. Cleverley proved in preseason that he is capable occupying the wide left slot and could be a valuable asset for improving that position.
Cleverley also has the potential to contribute in terms of goals. While on loan with Watford last season, Cleverley amassed 11 goals from midfield in 33 appearances on his way to being voted the Watford F.C. Player of the Season. While the level of competition is weaker in the Championship, a return of one goal every three matches in midfield is hardly something to scoff at. This summer, many fans believed that a goalscoring midfielder was a necessity. Tom Cleverley may very well be the answer to fans’ concerns.
The only apprehension I have with Cleverley making a return to Old Trafford in January would be the same concern that Sir Alex had in August – will Cleverley get enough first team action to continue his development? I have such high hopes for Cleverley, and I would hate to see his progress halted by a bad move. However, I am sure that Sir Alex has the player’s best interests at heart and will only recall him if he thinks there will be first team opportunities.
Ultimately, I eagerly await Cleverley’s return. Although nothing is official yet, the thought of Cleverley playing in the United first team has made me ecstatic. Even if he doesn’t get as many games at United as he would’ve with Wigan, developing under the likes of Giggs and Scholes is invaluable for a young midfielder. Just as I believed in August, I have complete faith that Cleverley is capable of breaking into the United first team this campaign and playing a significant role as we chase glory on all fronts.
Sir Alex has an absolute gem in Tom Cleverley. There is always risk involved when giving a youngster a chance in the first team, but as we United fans should know, the reward is often well worth the risk. At the start of the 1995/96 campaign, Sir Alex took a huge risk by placing his faith in the hands of a group of youngsters that would come to be known as Fergie’s Fledglings. As three of those fledglings – Neville, Scholes, and Giggs – approach the end of their careers at Old Trafford, it is time to give another fledgling his opportunity. It is now Cleverley’s turn to light up the Theatre of Dreams. There is no doubt in my mind that will live up to all of our grand expectations.
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