One of the more high profile players to join our club in recent seasons has been summer acquisition Tom Cleverley, who made the move to Aston Villa from Manchester United. After a dragged out affair on transfer deadline day (and beyond), the England midfielder with thirteen caps eventually joined Villa on loan, with a view to a permanent move.
Cleverley had become a shadow of the player who broke into the England squad under Roy Hodgson. Sir Alex Ferguson’s departure from Manchester United led to a 2013-2014 season to forget for the young midfielder. There were a number of Manchester United players who suffered under the tutelage of David Moyes, but none more so than Cleverley. The England squad for the World Cup was announced in May 2014 and Cleverley’s name was nowhere to be seen; even Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard retiring hasn’t resulted in a call-up since the World Cup.
After being the butt of many jokes and seeing a petition raised against his inclusion in future England squads, the last thing Cleverley needed was to be deemed surplus to requirements at Old Trafford – but that is exactly what happened. With his stock at its lowest, Tom Cleverley ended up at B6, where things began well. Cleverley made his Villa début in a 0-1 win at Anfield in early September. Unfortunately, that was the last time we won a game and our number eight must be beginning to think he’s cursed.
I must admit that I was not a big fan of Cleverley before he arrived at Villa Park. I didn’t feel he justified an England place as he was not a regular starter for Manchester United. I also felt we had a midfield player who was excelling at Villa Park who was not getting a look in ahead of Cleverley for England in Fabian Delph. Despite my previous doubts regarding Tom Cleverley’s ability, I decided to put them to one side and give him a fresh start playing for my club. After all, I felt he should be a massive upgrade on Sylla and El Ahmadi.
In Cleverley’s early games, I was surprised by him and I thought he looked like a very tidy player. I also felt that he, Westwood and Delph complemented each other well. I liked his incisiveness, speed of passing and his busy style. I thought he had a really good game against Manchester City at home and I felt after the tough run of fixtures against last season’s top five that he would come further out of his shell.
When Lambert first signed Cleverley, the manager suggested he was planning to play Cleverley further forward as an attacking midfielder. I was pleased by this because he earned many plaudits in that role while on loan to Wigan in 2010-2011 . I put the fact that he started deeper in his early games down to the quality of opposition we had faced but in the three games since he has certainly not been played in the attacking midfield role. I know Delph’s long term injury has caused a bit of a re-think but against QPR and Spurs Cleverley definitely appeared to be playing left midfield.
Tom Cleverley is not, and never will be, a left midfielder. There seems to be a fascination at B6 with players playing out of position – and there has been for a long time, even pre-Lambert. Olof Mellberg, Carlos Cuellar, Luke Young and Emile Heskey all spent long periods playing out of position. Andi Weimann has been doing it for years now. Cleverley’s best atributes are wasted on the flank, where they can’t be utilised at all. He looks about as comfortable playing on the left wing as we do watching the Villans play at the moment!
It’s early days in Cleverley’s Villa career. Some fans will have already made up their minds and decided that he isn’t good enough but I would really like to see him used further forward. I think there is a good player in there. With Westwood and Sanchez playing, we can afford to move Cleverley further forward. For a team that’s scored one goal in seven we could certainly do with setting ourselves up in a slightly more attacking manner. I’m not asking for us to be gung ho, just to offer more of a threat than we have been doing. I can’t imagine that Cleverley believes that Villa Park is the place to be when he is being shunted out on the wing. Lambert may well have seen something in training or in games that has led to a re-think of his initial comments when Cleverley joined but, in my opinion, we are playing too cautiously anyway and the use of Cleverley seems to be proving that.
Tom Cleverley arguably came as close as anyone to scoring for us at Upton Park. Get the shackles off, Lambert, and he might offer us a new dimension going forward! We couldn’t half do with one!