Manchester United midfielder Tom Cleverley determined to make up for lost time
If Tom Cleverley needed a reminder of how an international career can slip away from even a technically gifted midfielder at the country's most successful football club, he need look no further than the Manchester United team-mate who walked out on to the England training pitch alongside him yesterday.
Michael Carrick, back from his international sabbatical at 31, has just 22 caps over 11 years and it has been more than two years since his last for a variety of reasons, including the crossed wires that led to Roy Hodgson mistakenly believing he did not want to play for England at the last European Championship. Hindered by the Steven Gerrard-Frank Lampard dominance of the last eight years, Carrick has struggled to hold down a place. Since joining Manchester United during the 2006 World Cup finals he has won four league titles and a Champions League but picked up only 16 caps.
Cleverley, by contrast, has played just 15 times for United, his breakthrough last season was affected by injury, but he has already been in two England squads. He was close to a debut before the Netherlands friendly was called off because of last summer's riots and then had to withdraw from the Euro 2012 qualifiers against Bulgaria and Wales with the injury that blighted his season.
Tomorrow, both of them should play some part against Italy in Berne and while it is tempting to say that they are at opposite ends of their career, Cleverley is already 23, an age by which Carrick had two caps. One year ago, Cleverley was one of the new faces of United's young generation. More recently, he has acquired a reality TV star girlfriend. Yesterday he conceded it was about making up for lost time.
"Sometimes you can get frustrated and think, 'I've missed this, I've missed that', but at the end of the day I was 30 seconds from winning my first Premier League winners' medal, which would have been nice. These things happen and it's how you bounce back from them. There's still a lot I can achieve in my career and I'm not going to let a bad four or five months change that.
"He [Carrick] is a fantastic player. Sometimes you need to see it first-hand with Michael to realise how good he is. The level of players in midfield must be good if he's only won 22 caps. Hopefully the youngsters can develop into players winning 50 caps plus."
Cleverley was plagued by an ankle injury that originated from a challenge with Kevin Davies against Bolton Wanderers last September; he started his last league game for United all season against Everton a month later. "I've been at the club for a long time now and I'm disappointed with the injuries last year," he said. "I won't be playing like there's pressure on myself, but I know it's a big season."
Since then he has come through five games with Great Britain and benefited from the Olympics experience.
England's team selection was further disrupted yesterday when midfielder Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain pulled out with an ankle injury to be replaced by defender Joleon Lescott.
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