“It wasn’t that he was being bullied by bigger lads,” says Andy, “because he’s always been fearless. It was the running that got him down. He was being outrun by lads who were worse runners than him, just because they had much longer strides, and of course he couldn’t do anything about that.
“That used to frustrate him because he knew he was playing against lads who were inferior to him football-wise, but they were dominating him physically. He was genuinely tiny, and when the time came to move up to under-18s football, there was no way Tom was physically ready for it.”
That posed a problem to United’s coaching staff: sever ties with a player patently unprepared for the next step, or manufacture a situation to aid his progression. Fortunately, Tom had believers in high places.
“Both [Under-18s manager] Paul McGuinness and [former director of youth football] Jimmy Ryan never had any doubt of Tom as a footballer,” says Cleverley Senior. “They were absolutely convinced about his technical capability and Paul persevered with him. I think Paul stuck his neck out for Tom because he believed in him so much as a footballer. I’ve no doubt that if he was at any other club in the country, he’d have been released at 14 or 15 because he was genuinely tiny.”
"Sometimes you just get a feeling about people,” recalls McGuinness. “Tom was very dedicated. Even when he was very young, you could see he had good eyes. When you were talking, he was listening. His eyes were popping out of his head. He was staring at you, sucking it all in. Although he was