After making his long-awaited England debut, Tom Cleverley again demonstrated that, for all the setbacks and frustration of his fledgling career to date, his talent is ultimately worth every second of the wait…
It doesn’t take a jaw-dropping introduction to make a lasting impression.
Wayne Rooney and Kiko Macheda opened vacuum-packed infamy with goalscoring United debuts, while Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes immediately showed glaring traits which would become their hallmarks for decades to come. But while they immediately took centre stage in their teens, Tom Cleverley has taken the long road to prominence.
Even his England bow against Italy - labelled 'outstanding' by ITV pundit and Reds legend Roy Keane - came at the third time of asking after earlier call-ups were curtailed by injury and, slightly surreally, the 2011 London riots. As he demonstrated with a devastatingly functional outing in Berne last night, Cleverley’s patience is invariably validated.
For years a prisoner in an unfledged physique which forced his deployment out of position and spawned a string of serious impact injuries, the Basingstoke-born schemer made his competitive debut 11 years after joining United, having embarked on three loan deals and four pre-season campaigns with the Reds.
“He’s had to be patient, ” admits Andy Cleverley, Tom’s father. “He’s waited, ridden the frustration of being slow to grow, stuck to United’s development plan for him and it’s all been worth it now that he’s broken into the first team setup. He’s worked so hard for this for most of his life.”
Graft has always been on the menu for Cleverley junior. At just four years old, he would partake in professional training drills with his father. Touch, control, pass. Both feet. Hardly boot camp, but still invaluable foundations for all that followed. This went on virtually every weeknight until Tom joined the United Academy in August, 2000.
Cleverley’s career path only deviated towards the Reds at the last minute, when it had been set to take him elsewhere. An outstanding member of Bradford City’s School of Excellence – who spotted him playing for the under-11s side of local team