Cleverley backs English youngsters to come good

Manchester United player claims the 'unbelievable' talent in Under-21 squad offers hope for the future
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The Independent Football

Tom Cleverley claims the hand-wringing over a lack of young English talent is unfair. The Manchester United midfielder was told by Sir Alex Ferguson last week that he would be staying at Old Trafford after initial indications that a loan move was more likely. Ferguson's decision came on the back of some outstanding performances on United's pre-season tour of North America and Cleverley has now followed up with an excellent display in England Under-21's 2-0 victory over Uzbekistan at Ashton Gate on Tuesday night.

At a time when the focus is on England's young players like never before, with the lack of depth made so painfully obvious by call-ups for Scott Loach and Frankie Fielding as goalkeeping back-up to Joe Hart for last night's friendly against Hungary, Cleverley is a beacon of hope. Yet the Bradford-raised youngster, who celebrates his 21st birthday today, does not believe the situation is quite as bad as it seems.

"People are a bit harsh to say there is no talent coming through," he said. "It is there. A couple of times we have had the problem the first team has and we just don't gel. When you look at the players; [Theo] Walcott, [Danny] Welbeck, [Jack] Rodwell, [Jack] Wilshere. The talent in the squad is unbelievable.

"A few of those lads have played Champions League and European football. They also have plenty of Premier League games under their belts. The fact Wilshere is in the senior squad just shows it can be done."

Cleverley is clearly intent on making a significant mark this season, even though he accepts that a Carling Cup tie next month probably represents his first realistic chance to start a game for United. He accepts that remaining at Old Trafford will cut drastically the number of games he can expect to play.

But, having earned Watford's Player of the Year award after an excellent spell with the Championship club, he feels the benefit this season will come from working with top-class talent on a daily basis.

"I do feel one game at United is worth five somewhere else," he said. "Federico Macheda is an example. He has had a limited number of games but he has done well and made a name for himself. There are advantages and disadvantages to going on loan. I would have got more games somewhere else but training with this quality of players every day is a huge advantage."

With a European Under-21 Championship double-header against Portugal and Lithuania to come, when maximum points will be essential if England are either to overturn Greece at the top of Group Nine or, more realistically, claim one of the four runner-up berths that will give access to October's play-offs, Cleverley has plenty to occupy his mind.

But the focus never drifts too far from United and the targets he has set himself for the coming campaign. "Playing for Manchester United is a big thing," he said. "But I know just staying here is only part of the job. What I have to do now is impress the manager enough to get some minutes on the pitch. If I can play the cup games, get on now and again in the Premier League, and maybe have a couple of starts and score a few goals, I will be happy."