Manchester United’s Under-21 hopeful has learned how to play to his strengths from the best.
Industrious? Check. Known for his share of goals and assists? Check. Links with Manchester United? Check. Although these sound like attributes which are regularly associated with David Beckham, they also apply to Tom Cleverley, who’s more than happy to be a player in the mould of England’s famed midfielder.
The 20-year-old graduate of United’s academy – blooded as a substitute by Stuart Pearce at Under-21 level against Macedonia in October 2009 – is an avowed disciple of England’s midfield stalwart. Cleverley cut his teeth at Old Trafford when Beckham and other exalted names were in the senior XI, and he feels he’s learned from the best.
“I wasn’t full-time, so didn’t have much contact with him,” Tom recalls. “But if you saw him about, it would be special. I remember idolising him and just wanting to be like him. I have always watched him and wanted him to do well. I’d love to see him playing in the Premier League again.”
For Cleverley, currently enjoying a fruitful spell out on loan in the Championship with Watford, Beckham remains a source of inspiration and education.
“I’ve really got to look at and model myself on how he has become a world-class midfielder,” he says. “I’m not the sort of winger who would take loads of players on and whip a cross in, so I watch Beckham and how he affects the game so well. He plays to his strengths, contributes to goals and is a very important player in whichever team he’s in.”
A United education has also offered Cleverley huge insight – not just into tricks and tips, but attitude, too.
Tom continues: “You can pick up things from every player, but seeing Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes in training, they’re just on a different level. You can learn so much from watching their movement, decision-making and the way they keep the ball – they rarely make bad choices. While you’re at United you just learn to be a winner and play the game in the way it’s meant to be played.”
That attitude has done him no harm at Watford, where his goals have made a vital contribution to the Hornets' campaign. And getting on the scoresheet from midfield is a quality he feels is vital in the modern game.
“Just look at players like Frank Lampard, he gets in the box and scores great goals – and also some scrappy goals,” he adds. “I got one against Coventry that made it past a couple of bodies, but if you can score from midfield, it’s good for your team.”
Sounds just like a certain someone who has more than 100 caps for his country…