Tom Cleverley is a young decent-ish player who showed glimpses of promise last season on loan to Wigan. He’s certainly nothing special and off the top of my head I can easily think of two handfuls of British prospects in his age-group who are his equal, if not better. Even so, following his successful stint with the Latics he was rightfully selected for this summer’s Under-21 Euros where he proceeded to have an absolute shocker of a tournament. He was – by some distance – England’s worst performer in both games he figured in; anonymous and ineffectual throughout. I was asked by the Sabotage Times to review the opening fixture with Spain and came back from the pub a little late and missed the team line-ups. I duly picked up a paper and pen and scribbled down the names of each player as they appeared on screen. One position was left blank until near the end of the first half. Who the fuck is playing right midfield? Finally a skinny lad got his first touch and promptly spooned it to the opposition. Ah, Cleverley.
This week the poorest performer by a country mile from a pretty bad bunch of developing England players was one of only three to be promoted into the full squad for the cancelled Holland friendly. The decision brought bafflement and derision from most football supporters. What is the point in having these tournaments if the few stand-out individual displays are ignored (Fielding, Lansbury, Rose) whilst the boys who seemingly threw away their immediate chances are rewarded at the first opportunity? Why have a shop window at all if the establishment is always closed but to a select few? Never mind being considered the future of the national team within a year Cleverley won’t even be a mainstay of his club side once he’s superseded by the far superior likes of Pogba and Ravel Morrison. Something, it seems, is afoot.
Gabriel Obertan has a head like the Mekon and plays like a bad comic. His entire repertoire appears to be to push the ball down the by-line, get bustled off it all-too-easily by an opponent, throw his arms in the air in protest at an imaginary infringement and…well, that’s pretty much it. I have attempted to summarise him using wit or analysis but it really just comes down to this one simple truth – he is shit. Yet incredibly Newcastle United have just shelled out three million quid for this no-trick pony. If Obertan had sullied the Premier League in an Aston Villa or Blackburn shirt for his fourteen appearances in two years – each one as dire as the next – would the Geordies have stumped up the readies that appear to be superglued into Mike Ashley’s wallet? Or would he instead have faded from view back to his natural habitat in the French lower leagues?
Even the most impressive edifices require basic cement and mortar to hold it all together. Every Cantona needs a Nicky Buttress.
By now I’m sure you’ve guessed where this is heading. The answer to these conundrums is that both players share the distinction of playing for Manchester United.
In Alex Ferguson’s long tenure at Old Trafford he has built a string of fantastic sides sprinkled with an array of superstars and world class footballers. But even the most impressive edifices require basic cement and mortar to hold it all together. Every Cantona needs a Nicky Buttress. These players possess certain qualities but by virtue of playing for United, and under Ferguson, they are held in a far higher esteem than their limited talent deserves. They are over-achievers – feted mainly through association – and once they are inevitably called up to their national squads (a decision based not on their individual merit but simply due to the club they represent) or moved on from under Fergie’s expert tutorage their hothouse petals wilt to the exposure of the real world. Managers sign these players hoping that some of the United alchemy has somehow rubbed off on them; that old chestnut about him having learnt a ‘winning mentality’. Absolute horseshit. The winning mentality lies within the iron-will of Ferguson and perhaps, at a push, through the corridors of Old Trafford.
The player was just a pawn. A jobbing actor in a superbly written play.
Lessons have not been learnt. Darren Gibson was the subject of a five million pound bid by Sunderland this summer. For five million quid I’d expect five million Darren Gibsons. With plenty of change. I’d use them to insulate the loft and donate the rest to a police dog training school to be employed as dummies. He’s so bad that when he signed up to Twitter and didn’t initially tweet a United fan wrote ‘Seems somewhat fitting after the countless anonymous performances we’ve seen from the ‘footballer’’. Harsh but undoubtedly fair. Another wrote the childishly damning ‘My mate thought you were about 33 years old in the heart of midfield!’ The forlorn Irishman closed his account soon after. Gibson has the sense of responsibility of a looter, loses possession continually and is fearful of receiving the ball. He’s as suited to the Old Trafford turf as Ron Atkinson hosting the Mobo Awards. Yet Bruce was chomping at the bit to sign him. Why? Because he’s a Manchester United player of course.
Instead the Elephant Man settled for the dubious services of O’Shea and Brown. The happily married O’Shea? Yeah, I can see the logic there. He’s a dependable utility man, equally average across the back or in midfield. Wes Brown however epitomises everything I am saying here. There should be a paradox named after him. A half-man/half-orange represents England on twenty-three occasions whilst being a bit-part United player of a Sunderland standard. He then moves to Sunderland whereby he will play every week but won’t get another sniff at an international cap. It’s bewildering. Try to find logic in it and your head will explode and you’ll resemble his new gaffer.
This farcical favouritism will continue as long as the callow, unproven United upstarts like Cleverley gain caps with comical ease
These players are fast-tracked and over-promoted to the national team or sold for an inflated value based entirely upon a false allure they attain from being Manchester United footballers. In the case of Lee Sharpe some years back it was both. He wore the three lions on his chest the same number of times as Southampton’s mercurial genius Matt le Tissier – a statistic that staggers me to despair – before his big money move to Leeds soon revealed his minimal pedigree. He ended up at Exeter City.
This farcical favouritism will continue as long as the callow, unproven United upstarts like Cleverley gain caps with comical ease that infinitely better players at inferior clubs work half their careers for simply because – in Ashley Young’s own words – ‘He did really well against City’. Forty-five minutes in a glorified pre-season friendly….by that reckoning young Tom should be nominated for the Ballon D’Or if he puts in a solid display at West Brom this Sunday.