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Tom Cleverley Can Become Manchester United's Very Own Thiago

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 18:  Tom Cleverley of Manchester United during the FA Cup Fifth Round match between Manchester United and Reading at Old Trafford on February 18, 2013 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
Alex Livesey/Getty Images
Simon EdmondsCorrespondent IJuly 12, 2013

With it now seeming somewhat inevitable that long-time transfer target Thiago Alcantara will be moving to the champions of Europe this summer, as reported by The Guardian, Manchester United need to find a new answer to the issues with their central midfield. 

For a while now, this has been an area of the pitch where the Red Devils have struggled to compete with their closest rivals, resulting in them being totally outclassed in some big games (think back to the FA Cup semi-finals against Chelsea, after Eden Hazard was brought on).

Thiago had seemed like the resolution to a lot of these problems.

Being touted as one of the next great Spanish players, the 22-year-old was supposed to come in and fill the void that would be left by the retiring Paul Scholes.

However, it now appears as though this wont be happening and—with the news that United are also likely to miss out on Kevin Strootman (Sky Sports) of PSV—instead the champions of England will have to find someone else to become the player that Thiago was meant to be.

While a lot of fans have been suggesting a myriad of youth talents that could potentially carry out this task in the day since the news broke, people seem to be forgetting about a young talent that United already have on their books.

When Tom Cleverley returned from his loan at Wigan Athletic at the start of the 2011-12 Premier League season, I think a lot of United fans were skeptical about his inclusion in the first XI. 

The then 22-year-old Cleverley, despite shining during his spell with the Lactics, seemed like an odd player to be thrown suddenly into the mix from out of practically nowhere.

However, despite his youthful years and lack of experience playing with a top side, Cleverley shocked a lot of people with his crisp passes, ability to turn on a sixpence and desire to chase down the football and win it back.

It seemed as though United had found an answer to their prayers. This guy was going to be amazing, maybe even the next Scholes.

But a good thing never seems to last these days. During a 5-0 romping of Bolton Wanderers at the Reebok Stadium, Cleverley picked up damage to his left foot which would see him sidelined for a month.

The break away from the game showed. When he returned to duty he was still first-team material—but far from the player that had dominated the midfield in games previous to this.

In early January of that season Cleverley picked up yet another injury, and this time when he came back, that regular first-team place had gone.

Paul Scholes' return to the game from a premature retirement meant that suddenly the "next Paul Scholes" had to compete with...well, the real Paul Scholes for a place in the side.

With his injuries and lack of experience, Cleverley buckled under the pressure and was unable to maintain the form that had once impressed Sir Alex so much to publicly call the player "outstanding."

During the 2012-13 campaign Cleverley took a back seat, but still managed to make 22 appearances for United in the league alone (32 in all competitions).

The ups and downs he has faced over the last two years may well act as a blessing in disguise.

Cleverley has talent, bags of it, nobody can deny that. But what he was lacking was a consistent mentality to perform to the best of his abilities. 

After his injuries, the man from Basingstoke looked almost scared to go in for a challenge sometimes, fearing the risk of another nasty knock.

If he can put this out of his mind and find the form that saw him silence the doubters at the very beginning of his United career, then Red Devils supporters will soon forget about Thiago.

Last year I wrote a piece suggesting that the partnership between Shinji Kagawa and Cleverley would be crucial to United's campaign.

As it turned out, Kagawa's injuries and Cleverley's inconsistency meant this didn't pan out as the case.

However, if the man from Japan can avoid picking up another blow, and the England international recaptures the form he once exhibited, these two (along with Michael Carrick) could re-shape the way United fans think about their lackluster midfield.  

Tom Cleverley without question has the ability to become a world-class talent. He has been somewhat forgotten about in recent months, but that if anything only plays into his hands.

People won't be expecting a player wrongly branded as "average" to perform magic in a game. 

Chelsea's Ramires is a perfect example of this. Having been labelled (perhaps rightfully so) as mediocre for such a long period of time, it came as a shock to many when the Brazilian suddenly turned on the skill.

Now he's on occasion keeping Eden Hazard out of the Blues' starting lineup. Cleverley can do the same thing for United in regards to the step up in caliber.

Cleverley needs to use this summer to show his new boss that he means business. A good preseason could be the answer to this.

So while United's constant inability to sign continental players seems to continue, the answer to their suffering might come in the form of a player who epitomizes what they do better than anyone else in England—nurturing a homegrown youth talent.

Missing out on Thiago was a big blow, but Cleverley has the potential to make it redundant. 

 

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