Cleverley delivers for Team GB as defining Manchester United season awaits

Midfielder endured a hugely frustrating 2011-12 campaign, but has enjoyed a fine summer with Great Britain's Olympic side and will be looking to kick on at Old Trafford
By Matt Scott

The Olympic Games are proving to be crucial for several members of Team GB, but perhaps few have had as much to gain from London 2012 than Tom Cleverley.

A year ago, Cleverley returned to Manchester United after a year at Wigan ready to be integrated into the Old Trafford first team and on the brink of making his senior England debut.

Twelve months down the road and that Three Lions cap still eludes him, while foot and ankle injuries saw his progress stutter after an exciting start to United's 2011-12 campaign.

However, Cleverley has proven his worth on the international stage this summer with Stuart Pearce's side and, with fitness on his side and the Red Devils' pursuit for a central midfielder still ongoing, the 22-year-old could yet prove pivotal this season.

Many youngsters have been given an opportunity by Sir Alex Ferguson and not many have managed to grasp it. The 70-year-old has great faith in Cleverley, backing him to eventually take the place of Paul Scholes, as he was supposed to last season before the succession of injuries limited him to just 15 appearances in all competitions, forcing the veteran playmaker out of retirement to plug the gap.


There was also misfortune for the midfielder. Called up to Fabio Capello's England squad to face Netherlands, and expected to feature, the friendly was called off due to the London riots. He was denied a debut and then failed to make it onto the pitch on the only other occasion he was called to the squad, for European Championship qualifiers against Bulgaria and Wales.

Cleverley has now returned to fitness, however, and has quickly gone about building his reputation back up with a string of fine performances for the Olympic squad.

Despite an unimpressive showing, along with the rest of the team, against Brazil in Team GB's friendly opener, the 22-year-old has come on in leaps and bounds during the tournament phase.

Other than perhaps Craig Bellamy, none have shone at the Games like the midfielder, operating as the driving force in the middle alongside cuter technicians such as Aaron Ramsey and Joe Allen.

After finding his feet in the choppy waters of a midfield battle against Senegal, Cleverley was instrumental in Team GB's win over UAE, playing a part in two of the three goals and agonisingly seeing an effort rebound off both posts without crossing the line.

An instantly controlling first touch, expansive passing range and a keen sense for when to arrive in dangerous positions, Cleverley has looked energised at the Games, already displaying his attacking talents that were sorely missed from a static and clunky midfield at United last season.

Sir Alex has acted to remedy that in the transfer market, again jeopardising Cleverley's route to stardom with the Red Devils, by bringing in Shinji Kagawa and targeting Brazil's own Olympian, Lucas Moura.

There has always been a need for locally produced talent in United's side, however, and with deeper positions in midfield up for grabs, the 22-year-old may be hoping to sit behind Kagawa next season, possibly taking the place of the metronomic Michael Carrick, who is now 31.

If Cleverley can continue his current vein of form, he may return to United as the man of the moment, and 2012-13 could see him establish himself at Old Trafford to finally take his mantle among the finest ever produced at the 19-time English champions.

For now though, adding to Britain's medal tally will be the only thing on his mind.