There is little doubt among football fans and pundits that Tom Cleverley is going to be wearing an England shirt for many years to come. The midfield maestro has finally managed to start holding down his place in the Manchester United first team and this has led to regular England appearances. The only worry is over how he is being used for England.
At United, Cleverley has been used in the central midfield position as a creative player. This is the role he played against San Marino last Friday and it worked brilliantly. Yet for some reason he is sometimes used in different positions for England. This is nothing new as Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard have regularly played out of position for England in recent years.
Cleverley has said that he will play anywhere for England but there is no doubt his effectiveness is muted when he’s not used in his best role. He was largely criticised for his lack of shooting accuracy following the 1-1 draw against Ukraine earlier in qualifying. However, he was played out of position in that match and that is not his role for his club side, where he plays most of his football.
“It has always been a part of my game [playing in different roles] growing up through the youth team, the reserves. I think that's a positive of growing up at Manchester United - you just don't learn to play in one position. I played number ten at the Olympics so I am used to playing in that position and for my club I tend to play a bit deeper so I can play both of those positions for my country,” said Cleverley ahead of the clash with Poland.
The problem England have is that Roy Hodgson may see Cleverley as a long term replacement for certain older players in the national side e.g. Gerrard. However, through his own self admission, the United midfielder has said that he is more of a utility man whereas Gerrard has a direct attacking role whether he is playing for Liverpool or England.
Cleverley needs to be used cleverly because his form at United and for England can be affected if he is asked to play different roles all of the time. It’s an old cliché in football but it’s sometimes best to play players for England where they are playing best for their club side. Paul Scholes was never used in anything other than his club role for England and neither are the likes of Michael Carrick, James Milner, Gareth Barry, the list goes on.
His recent form at United tells us that he is at his best when he is playing a settled role in a settled team. A young player can show all of the enthusiasm and eagerness in the world but in reality it’s much easier for a younger player to become effective if he just concentrates on one role for his club and is then asked to play that role for his country.
We are all happy that Cleverley is an England regular and playing well but his effectiveness cannot be contradicted through a simple lack of common sense when it comes to club and country.