16/08/2012 10:05, Report by Steve Bartram
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Tom: The patient virtuoso

“That season was an unbelievable experience for him,” says Andy. “The first half of the season was sensational. He scored on his debut against Nottingham Forest at the City Ground. I’m a Forest fan and I was in the visitors’ section jumping up and down like a lunatic celebrating a goal against my team. My old man would have turned in his grave!

“But he kept scoring and had eight goals in his first sixteen games. The thinness of the squad began to show, though, and they slipped down the table, but even that was a good education for him – I remember Tom saying at the time that nobody wanted relegation on their CV.”

Cleverley returned to United and, for the third summer in succession, played a goalscoring role in the first team's pre-season tour. When he failed to make the campaign’s first five squads, however, the youngster implored Sir Alex Ferguson to sanction a loan deal with Wigan, a move which ultimately benefited all parties as the Latics stayed in the top flight and Tom savoured a season of Premier League experience.

Another impressive contribution to the Reds' 2011 US Tour suggested that he was ready for first team involvement; an inkling confirmed when he flipped the Community Shield on its head, starring as a proactive hub of industry as United came from two goals down to triumph.

The midfielder’s first four Premier League outings whet the collective appetite, until a lunging challenge from Bolton’s Kevin Davies damaged his ankle ligaments and ruled him out for six weeks. The legacy of that tackle was aggravated in his next start, at Everton, and he limped from the fray for almost four months.

Cleverley returned to full fitness at a time when the team was going full pelt to retain the Premier League title, restricting him to substitute cameos until the end of the campaign. As breakthrough seasons go, 2011/12 was a bittersweet campaign for the midfielder.

In keeping with his career to date, setbacks and frustration rotated with brilliance and acclaim, but the negatives were used to galvanise the positives. Small but tough. Modest but confident. Eager but calm. Nothing to grab headlines, merely a soothing fluency in the basics of touch, control, passing and movement.

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