Aston Villa? Valencia? Anywhere but Manchester United for Tom Cleverley

Soccer - FA Community Shield - Manchester City v Manchester United - Wembley Stadium

Tom Cleverley must feel as if he has reached a point of no return at Manchester United.  The vilification of the player, once heralded as the emblem of a new generation at Old Trafford, has become so pronounced that his actual performances are really an irrelevance.

Cleverley is type-cast as a bad player and he has unwittingly become associated with everything that has gone wrong at Manchester United in the aftermath of Sir Alex Ferguson’s departure.  He is to United supporters what James Milner has frequently been to England fans: the player who, from the moment a game starts, attracts criticism irrespective of how he performs.

The player himself would probably be the first to acknowledge that his progression has stalled in recent years, but the perception of him has still been unfairly soured by the unjust context within which his career has taken place.  Being a young Manchester United player will always provoke expectations and comparisons, and Cleverley has been labouring against a Paul Scholes parallel since the moment he first put on a red shirt.

How absurd and how indicative of the modern fan’s reductive assessment of ability.  Aside from nominally being midfielders, prime-era Paul Scholes and contemporary Tom Cleverley are poles apart stylistically, yet the former is still the yardstick to which the latter is held.

There lies the danger in making a premature, erroneous prediction about a player’s future, and then failing to adjust it once it becomes clearly inaccurate.  Cleverley doesn’t simply disappoint an audible minority of Manchester United and England supporters, he is actively resented by them - and cringe-worthy petitions, quasi-witty memes and bilious social media derision accompanies every step he takes on a football pitch.

But now he has the chance to break from that.

Louis Van Gaal’s arrival Manchester United has marginalised several members of the first-team squad, and several former first-teamers are expected to depart before the transfer-window shuts.  Cleverley is among them, and both Aston Villa and Valencia have had bids of around £8m accepted within the last twenty-four hours.  What an opportunity that could for the player to re-boot his career.

Villa and Valencia occupy different positions within their respective leagues, but both exist within a different stratosphere to Manchester United.  Their fanbases have each felt the sting of financial restriction over the past decade, and expectations have been adjusted accordingly.  The Spanish club are the more successful and are, under the new ownership of Peter Lim, starting to emerge from the metaphorical cave they have been dwelling within, but both sides offer a more balanced environment for a player of a Tom Cleverley’s abilities.

That’s what has been forgotten with Cleverley: he is actually a good player.  He may not be a burgeoning Paul Scholes, he may not ever fulfill the ‘English Xavi Hernandez’ prophecy he was lumbered with, but he still has pertinent abilities.  In the right situation and surrounded by complementing players, he does use the ball very well and he can play the link-role between the two halves of a midfield to a high standard.  Manchester United fans crave progress and desire difference-makers with highlight-reel ability and resonating reputations, and Cleverley is just far too ordinary to be tolerated as the useful squad-player he arguably is.

At Villa, Valencia, or another club between the two, he would not only have a far greater chance of playing more regularly - which, obviously, is vital for the re-establishment of his confidence - but the focus would probably shift away from his deficiencies and towards the attributes that he does have.  The old adage is that the only way is down when a player decides to leave Old Trafford, but while that may be true and it may involve a reclassification of a player’s standing, in this instance it would be a very logical and probably very liberating choice.

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