[dropcap]M[/dropcap]anchester United’s midfield has been missing a certain class and star quality since the retirement of club legend Paul Scholes, with a number of players attempting to step into the void created by the former England international.
It is fair to say that the Old Trafford outfit still do not have a midfielder possessing the vision, energy and goalscoring ability of Scholes, with finding someone of the former playmaker’s understated qualities a key task in the summer transfer market for Louis van Gaal.
One man that was being named as a possible heir to Scholes’ throne remains on the Manchester club’s books, but his dream of becoming United’s next midfield general has dissipated.
Tom Cleverley is out of contract this summer and is set for a new challenge in a career that has failed to live up to the expectations that were placed on him from a young age.
A member of the Old Trafford youth ranks since the age of 11, the dynamic midfielder emerged as a contender for the first team in 2009 and was quickly being touted as one of the next generation of United’s homegrown whizzkids.
Following a loan stint at Leicester, Cleverley spent a season at Watford in 2009-10 and with a goal ratio of a strike every three games looked like a player in the Scholes mould.
The chance to play top-flight football came the following season as he starred for Roberto Martinez’s Wigan side, putting in some blockbuster performances along the way.
Upon his return to Old Trafford ahead of the 2011-12 campaign, the stage was set for Cleverley to realise his potential.
Scholes had just retired, a void existed in Sir Alex Ferguson’s midfield and Cleverley, fresh from a a year’s Premier League action, was given a chance to step into the breach.
Initially the signs were good.
His presence in the heart of the side tied the team together, with his energy, work-rate and passing catching the eye.
A new four-year deal at United and a senior England call-up followed and the stage was set for Cleverley to live up to his supposed destiny of being the latest in a long line of world-beaters bred at Carrington.
However, fast forward a couple of years and it hasn’t quite worked out as the player would have hoped.
Now 25 and at the end of the afore-mentioned United contract, Cleverley will leave Old Trafford this summer as a player that has been chastised by the club’s fans on occasion and someone who will need to start again elsewhere.
Following his impressive introduction to the United first team, injuries took their toll and the midfielder struggled to regain momentum.
Once Ferguson left the club and was replaced by David Moyes, the Basingstoke-born playmaker struggled to find his best form and was openly criticised by pundits and fans as his confidence appeared to be scraping the bottom of the barrel.
The heads-up footballer full of enthusiasm and purpose was replaced by a nervous player a yard off the pace and as such following Van Gaal’s arrival it wasn’t a real surprise that Cleverley was not part of the Dutchman’s plans.
The 25-year-old has spent this season on loan at Aston Villa, where it has taken him time to get back to his best.
However, in recent weeks and with his employers in dire need of points to avoid a drop to The Championship, the midfielder has been in a talismanic mood.
Three goals in his last three games, including the winner against West Ham at the weekend that looks to have almost secured Villa’s safety, have been an indication and reminder of Cleverley’s quality.
A free agent this summer, a permanent move to the Birmingham-based club seems like an excellent option, where he can form an exciting partnership alongside fellow international Fabian Delph.
Other Premier League clubs will surely be considering a move for the United man given his recent form, but the most important thing for Cleverley is that he is playing regularly next season, wherever he ends up.
With United’s grand plans of expenditure this summer, Cleverley has become something of a forgotten figure at Old Trafford and certainly not the next Paul Scholes.
Regardless of this, the signs are there that the hardworking midfielder can forge his own identity, revitalise his reputation and get back into the international fold away from his boyhood club.
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