There was a brief moment in the 72nd minute of the United-Chelsea game where a big hole opened up at the edge of the Chelsea 18. Ivanovic was pulled out marking Rooney and the space behind him in the 18 could fit a convoy. Cleverley played a give and go with Rooney, the hole opened up, Cleverley considered the run. If he made the run he could have pulled apart Chelsea's solid defense and even had a clear sight of goal. It was the kind of opportunity Paul Scholes would take and unleash a fearsome shot, the kind of opportunity that Xavi and Iniesta regularly use to decimate defenses.
To be fair to Cleverley, someone had to make the pass to him. If he had made the run and United turned over possession it would have left us vulnerable to the counter attack. And he recognized that. So he did what I've come to expect Tom Cleverley to do, he recognized the opportunity, took a few steps forward and then ran back to provide cover. That is Tom Cleverley, starting center midfielder for the greatest football club on the planet. True to form when the move broke down on the left, Rooney tried to sweep it cross field and lost possession. Cover was needed. The point though is the move broke down because that extra dimension that Cleverley could have provided was not there.
On the 2010-2011 U.S tour Tom Cleverly did make that run. In the 72nd minute (how is that for symmetry?) of the game against the MLS All Stars he broke into the box, flipped the ball over a defender and whacked the ball in the back of the net to score United's fourth goal. The next year, Cleverley and Anderson combined in their version of tikki taka, Cleverley actually held his own against Thiago Alcantra and Barcelona (well the B team). The season started and United were beating Arsenal 8-2, the first 5 games of that season were a fans dream. Cleverley showed poise and intent, he and Anderson controlled the game with neat passes, he called for, even demanded the ball. He probed and poked, made runs, quick one-twos, through balls.. took shots on goal.That was the emerging Tom Cleverly, to quote Sir Alex "He, to my mind, is probably the best midfield player in Britain, potentially. He has fantastic promise." .
I hope somehow you read this, so let me speak directly to you. For the past half decade all any Manchester United fan has wanted was Paul Scholes's replacement. Heck, maybe it was why he waited as long as he did to retire, he wanted United to find a replacement first. We all thought that was you, so far to our great disappointment. All summer long we have been teased (and finally embarrassed) with Thiago, Fabregas, Mata, Ozil etc. Look ...it's great, you running back to provide cover and all (it really is) but I assure you that David Moyes does not want any of those players for their defensive abilities. I also assure you they would be penciled in ahead of you for every important game, see he wants them for their ability to control the game and unlock the oppositions defense.
What happened to you, Tom? You got injured against Bolton in 2011 and it all changed. When you came back you seemed to have lost all attacking or possession intent. Your first instinct now with the ball is to get rid of it and make sure you don't have it at your feet. You play much deeper and are more passive, never the one to make things happen or rock the boat. You play deeper but you are not physical so Carrick does not feel comfortable wandering to far forward. You don't "show" enough to be an outlet for the defenders (Lord knows that Vidic needs an outlet). Sometimes you seem surprised when the ball comes to you. When you come up, it looks like you don't want to be there, there are gaping spaces between you and the 18 that would help stretch a defence if you popped up more often. I think that maybe it was Fergie, Meulensteen and even Carrick that changed you. I think they worked on your positional awareness and made you pay too much focus to your defensive responsibilities. I think that you for some reason think you need to sacrifice that part of your game. Not understanding that defence can also be by ball control, smart play and possession. I think that you miss playing alongside Anderson. I like to think that you are not content with just making the first team. I hope not.
Do you realize you play for Manchester United and England? Is your pride at least somewhat insulted by the obvious search for an upgrade to you? How much longer till you think United and England get that upgrade? Then at best you make the bench, if that? Ross Barkley will probably bump you from the England lineup. Wait till Roy Hodgson notices the Aston Villa boys. The rise was a long hard road, but trust me the fall is a lot quicker.
I read somewhere a quote attributed to you... to paraphrase "people can talk all they want, I just play my football". Not the exact sentence but similar meaning. So let me spell it out for you. Currently your football makes a lot of us wish that David Moyes had successfully gambled on a somewhat unproven midfielder, Ander Herrera, for 31 million euros, just because he could be marginally better than you. It makes me happy we now have Fellaini to displace or spark you, it makes me pine for Ravel Morrison and Paul Pogba. Heck the other day I started looking up Steven Defour, because we were once linked with him. Do not waste your opportunity. To come so far and to make this team, but not sustain your potential and to eventually lose your place (mark my words, it will happen at this rate) should not be your story.