According to a well researched article by The Telegraph’s Rory Smith, Tom Cleverley is the heir apparent to Paul Scholes. Supposedly, the latest in the line of a number of English footballing messiahs has at last arrived, armed with wand and saber, ready to blow the opposition away with a combination of classic English spirit and less classic English skill.
At least it’s not as bad as in Argentina, where every player with an ounce of talent becomes a “pibe,” the true number ten, and nowadays, the next Messi. Look at poor little Leo, a seven year old who earlier this week signed for Real Madrid. The comparisons with “The Flea” were immediately evident, from the nationality all the way down to the name. At least English messiahs seem to come with chest hair and a full set of grown up teeth.
However, for all their pubic developments, legal ability to drink and infatuation with women, English footballers should be treated with the care that seems to be lacking in the public’s appraisal of little Leo. At seven, a player does not deserve to be burdened with the weight of expectations. However, nor does a player of seventeen. Or, in this case, twenty-one.
What has Tom Cleverley done to earn his title? What feat of brilliance has the young man produced to be described as the heir apparent to Paul Scholes? Nothing is the answer. Nothing. Involvement in one of the greatest team goals of modern times perhaps, and a season marked by four goals at Wigan, but really nothing else.
When Scholes made his debut for England in 1997, he had already won two Premier League titles and was a staple in the Manchester United team. Tom Cleverley, set to make his national team bow until riots forced a cancellation, has yet to reach the level of Paul Scholes circa 1997. Cleverley has won nothing and done nothing. He does not deserve to be set up for failure like so many of his predecessors. Cleverley’s ascent, similar to Walcott, Beckham, Rooney, and Owen, seems to have already begun. A few compliments from Sir Alex, and he had set up base camp, an assist in the Community Shield and the summit was in sight, a summit that may have been reached had rioters not stopped his progress with a metaphorical snow storm. But you can be sure, eventually Cleverley will get there. A silky touch to set Rooney through for the winner at the Hawthorns on Sunday. Maybe a goal for himself in the same game, or perhaps just more glowing praise from Ferguson, and young Tom will sit alongside Rooney, Walcott and company. Be warned though Tom Cleverley, the easy climb up is nothing if a misleading preview of the slippery summit.
In a sort of perverse, unpatriotic way, the men and women lauding him now want dearly for Cleverley to fail. There is nothing better than a put down, a good opportunity to toss an unproven youngster’s career into the waste paper basket for some unscrupulous journalists. Certain journos relish the opportunity to drag down a man they have just hoisted up – all the better if they have to tap his phone in the process.
It would be misleading to insinuate that all newspaper columnists have it in for the subject of their praise, but men like Ferguson and Capello will likely know that what few exist are capable of doing damage disproportionate to their numbers. Ferguson has seen, for instance, how the play of footballers like Wayne Rooney can be affected by some negative reporting. Even before last year’s revelations about Rooney’s sex life, his form suffered after being mercilessly abused by the very writers who had written an homage to him ahead of England’s disastrous World Cup campaign.
Too many youngsters have failed due to overblown expectations, and Ferguson — in particular — must work hard to prevent Cleverley from being overwhelmed. A first advisable step would be to play down his achievements publicly, insisting that he has much to learn. Even after that, a move that many claim would halt his progress might do just the opposite. United could probably squeeze another three good seasons out of Wesley Sneijder. Why not purchase him now, and slowly introduce Cleverley into the system? What better mentor for an up-and-coming creator than arguably the most talented one currently playing?
For Capello, a temptation to include Cleverley will only be exacerbated by the papers’ constant pressure, making a protective, downplaying stance all the more difficult to achieve. However, if Capello seeks to leave a legacy as England boss (and that legacy will most certainly not be silver lined) then perhaps Tom Cleverley is his man. A mature, grounded Cleverley, shorn of the chains which bound down “the golden generation” and free of the pressures of unrealistic comparisons could help England win the trophy that they have been seeking, and will continue to seek following Euro 2012.
In the perpetual cycle of beginning and ending that are footballing careers, Ferguson and Capello find themselves on the way out. On the other side though, exists a player ready to make his mark. It’s therefore imperative that the legendary coaching duo ensure Tom Cleverley stays on track, eventually becoming a legend worthy of the title, “Tom Cleverley, the man who made us forget Paul Scholes.”