Born on a mountain top in… Basingstoke, Thomas William Cleverley could have had it all.
Considered the long-term replacement for one of the greatest Manchester United midfielders in a generation – Paul Scholes – Cleverley never managed to reach those heights and is now joining his seventh club in six years since he broke into the senior squad at Old Trafford. Coupled with the pressure of filling a big pair of boots, injuries have laid him low at key times in his development.
Now aged 25, freed of any ties and comparisons from his parent club, and with some pundits talking about him back knocking on the England regulars door after breaking into the squad once again after a mixed year at Villa Park, the pressure on him at Everton is different, but still there.
A rare commodity – rarer still now Lampard and Gerrard are out of the picture, Cleverley is English, an experienced international, and still perhaps with his best years ahead of him. Roberto Martinez will be hoping he can inject some life into Everton after a disappointing campaign – which makes it more frustrating that he couldn’t have signed with Aston Villa after the club put an arm around him and gave him some redemption after he was labelled as damaged goods.
To be fair, Paul Lambert was the manager when Cleverley arrived and his dire defensive tactics were never going to bring out the best in the loanee. Newspapers are speculating one of the main reasons Clev chose Everton was his working with some success with Martinez as a roving attacking midfielder as opposed to a more central player under Sherwood (and chasing the ball back to the goal line under Lambert.)
If that’s the case, it’s hard to argue against it. Cleverley probably would have preferred Everton in January when Villa pipped Martinez to the loan signing if that’s true. And he might well have made a more significant impact than he did at Villa.
Certainly Cleverley played his part in keeping Villa in the league with some goals (including a belter ironically against the Toffees that proved to be the winner.) But he also put in a string of indifferent shifts under Lambert, which turned the crowd against him when all they wanted was some energy and a few less misplaced passes. At his best he looked like Andy Townsend. At his worst, he looked like he was trying too hard to be all things to everyone especially when shackled by Lambert’s tactics.
If it came down to money, that’s one thing. It’s easy for blinkered fans to dismiss a player moving to another club to double his wages. Villa certainly helped Cleverley’s career but with his history of injuries, the chance to sign a lucrative contract with bonuses and incentives linked to international appearances (if his agent is smart) and bring home a reported £50,000 a week on a five-year deal must have been a no-brainer.
Was the deal decided a while ago? Well, Cleverley’s words last month and the way he celebrated what was effectively the winner against Everton, suggest not.
Hard as it is for Villa fans to accept, even if Villa hang on to Benteke and the ownership issue is addressed, there won’t be the sort of investment to provide the quality Sherwood needs even as he trims the squad. Everton might need a massage to move up the table but Villa need electric paddles to shock them into shape. Which team is likely to qualify for Europe first? Given his injury record, could Cleverley have taken the chance to stay at Villa long enough to find out?
It’s hard for the man in the street to even comprehend the life of a professional Premier League footballer, earning what would be an annual salary to most of the country in just a week. Cleverley has been signed to pro clubs since he was 11. It’s all he’s known. Certainly his posturing at the end of wins seemed to show his passion and love for the club – there’s no doubt he enjoyed his time at Villa Park. More so after Lambert was fired for sure. But to think he’ll turn down the chance to rejoin a manager who “gets” him and make a pretty penny out of it just to stay at the club that helped revive his career, but ultimately narrowly survived relegation and choked in the cup final is naive.
You don’t have to wish him well, but he should be thanked and his replacement should be cheered as long as he is willing to wear the shirt too. Hopefully it will be for more than six months. UTV
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