Old Trafford may be the self-styled Theatre of Dreams but Tom Cleverley has admitted he is delighted to have made the break from Manchester United and put the “negativity” of a nightmare season behind him.
The England midfielder, speaking to the press yesterday about his deadline-day loan move to Aston Villa, became a scapegoat for United’s failings last term and was even a target for followers of the national team who earlier this year launched an online petition calling for his exclusion from the World Cup and jeered his name when it was read out before the Denmark game at Wembley in March.
Even this week, he was in the firing line of Twitter abuse during a Premier League-organised Q&A but the 25-year-old is confident that away from Old Trafford, he can revive his career.
“I am happy to get away from some of the negativity that surrounded me at Man United and I am genuinely excited about this season at Aston Villa,” said a man who, by his own admission, is “motivated to prove a few people wrong”.
Cleverley was quick to stress he was not the only player at United to struggle last season, when he played 31 times. “If all the players last season said they were high in confidence, they would be lying. It wasn’t just me. It was the rest of the squad and that rubs on to players and the fans, too. It was a tough season for us but I’ve got away from the negativity of that and this is a brand new challenge and I can’t wait to get stuck into it.
“If any footballer gets a bit of stick off their own fans, they are going to be hurt but it has made me strong as a character,” he said, adding: “You don’t turn into a bad player just because someone says it on Twitter.”
He also shed a little light on his late, late move to Villa. After reports that his salary demands would scupper the move – “That’s not the case,” he insisted – he had appeared set for a transfer to Everton after Roberto Martinez, his one-time manager during a loan at Wigan, showed his hand; when that broke down, he completed instead a loan move to Villa which was ratified the day after the window closed.
“It ended up being a bit of a rush,” he said. “I was at my agent’s house and then the move didn’t look like going through so I went back to Manchester. It was a last-minute rush to get it done but the main thing now is that I’m happy to be here.”
Cleverley added that there was “no reason it can’t be made permanent in January” as he underlined the fact he would not be returning to Old Trafford, where he made just one league appearance this term. “With me being out of contract at the end of the year, if I’m honest I don’t think I would play for the club again.”
Louis Van Gaal may have handed him the captain’s armband for a pre-season friendly against Roma but the Dutchman, Cleverley revealed, made it clear in a private conversation that he had no future at the club. “He was always straight with me,” says Cleverley, who therefore did not hesitate to call Lambert to revive his Villa move at the last minute. “Any footballer wants the best opportunity to play every week so it was common sense for me to try and get this move,” he said.
With the departure of Danny Welbeck, another homegrown youngster, for Arsenal on the same day, there has been much talk of United losing a little of their soul yet Cleverley believes “it was the right time for me and Danny to leave” and is confident that “as long as people like Ryan Giggs are still at the club the youngsters will always get a chance”.
As for where it went wrong for him, Cleverley’s belief is that playing “a little bit deeper” at United did not help him and he hopes to make an impact in Villa’s three-man midfield alongside the newly capped Fabian Delph. They were once in Bradford’s youth system together and got lifts together to training. “They’ve got a lot of good young players, high-energy players like myself, so hopefully I can fit into that and hopefully working under the manager and Roy [Keane], who have been fantastic midfielders, can develop my game,” he said. “I’d like to play more advanced. I feel like I have the legs to be able to get back as well as get into the opposition box.”
Cleverley spoke too of his wish to “get back into the England squad” and while his critics may scoff, Lambert sees the potential of a player who could make his debut for Villa at Liverpool tomorrow. “He is a top player; you don’t lose natural ability.”Reuse content