London: Tom Cleverley’s impressive impact since coming into the England senior side has drawn praise from his national manager and captain, with Roy Hodgson suggesting the Manchester United midfielder is capable of performing in a similar manner to Barcelona’s Cesc Fabregas.
Cleverley earned his second cap in Friday’s resounding 5-0 victory in Moldova, excelling as a busily effective No 10 behind Jermain Defoe, with Cleverley arguably feeling more of a fixture in the England line-up now than he is at his club. The 23-year-old is expected to retain his place in Tuesday’s more daunting contest with Ukraine at Wembley, having maintained the encouraging form displayed for Stuart Pearce’s Team GB side at the Olympics.
“The Games were good for him,” said Hodgson. “They were important for me as well because that’s where I sort of ‘discovered’ him. I knew him when he was [on loan] at Watford and I’d seen him play a couple of times, and I’d seen him play a few games as substitute for Manchester United. He got injured very early last season so I suppose the Olympics was the opportunity for me, really, to run the rule over him. He was one of the names I wanted to add to my list for the World Cup qualifiers.
“I suppose you would call him an attacking midfield player, but he’s an attacking midfielder in the same way as Cesc Fabregas — he’s quite capable of coming back into a central midfield role, and quite capable, even, of coming back to win the ball when it’s necessary.
“It would be wrong to label what type of player he is: for me, he’s just a good midfield player and he took a bit more responsibility in Moldova for getting closer to Defoe, allowing Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard to get on the ball in deeper positions where they are comfortable.” Fabregas’s initial impact at Arsenal had been in central midfield, effectively as a deep-lying distributor, with his game developing further over time in the first-team as his attacking instincts steadily prevailed. Comparisons with the Spain international — such a technically gifted performer, and already a world and two-time European Championship winner — might feel premature with Cleverley still attempting to establish himself at Old Trafford.
Yet he has progressed smoothly into the senior national setup to suggest he will prove a regular at this level and could perhaps take heart from the reality that England’s previous visit to Chisinau marked David Beckham being handed his first cap, in Glenn Hoddle’s first match in charge, back in 1996.
“Tom’s going to be a good player,” said Gerrard. “He’s only a young boy and games like that in Moldova will be fantastic experience for him. He’s playing for one of the biggest clubs in Europe and he’s broken into the England team already, so he’s got a fantastic future. If he keeps learning the game and trying to improve, he’s going to be a fantastic footballer.”
The advanced role Cleverley has enjoyed against Italy and Moldova is not one he regularly plays with United, where Sir Alex Ferguson has more usually employed him in a deeper position. Wayne Rooney will presumably return to claim the No 10 position once he has returned to fitness, most likely in time for next month’s qualifiers against San Marino and Poland, though Cleverley has at least offered Hodgson food for thought.
“He’s done a good job,” added Gerrard, “and we’ll have to wait and see [where he will feature once Rooney is fit]. Tom can also play as a conventional midfielder, remember, and it’s important when you’re young and starting out to be able to play in a couple of different positions. It helps you get into starting line-ups, and he can do that.”