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Debate: Five caps could easily be 50 for Manchester United’s Tom Cleverley after mastermind midfield England role

Comment by Ben Ireland

Manchester United’s Tom Cleverley scooped only his fifth England cap last night, as part of a new look team that saw a number of young talents on show.

His astute and composed performance made him look beyond his years, and England’s best passages of play went through him.

England were eventually defeated 4-2 away in Sweden’s new Swedbank Arena, where Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s four strikes showcased his undoubted talent to justify his place among the world’s best strikers.

Cleverley was deployed in a three man midfield alongside 31-year-old debutant Leon Osman and captain Steven Gerrard, who completed his century of international appearances.

Despite the landmark appearances for the two who joined him in the centre, Cleverley’s silky footwork and eye for a smart pass stood out, creating the best English moves from open play as he linked the midfield and the front.

Graceful in touch, and careful in possession, Cleverley was missed when he was substituted on the hour, but you can be sure that a certain Sir Alex Ferguson had an influence in that decision.

The best thing for Cleverley right now is, however, just what we witnessed last night. Other young English players are being thrust into the limelight with demanding expectations placed upon their shoulders.

United are one of the only clubs to successfully nurture and hold on to international calibre home-grown talent since Liverpool in the early noughties, and Cleverley’s progress is a prime example of the best way to do so.

Raheem Sterling put in a solid performance last night, but at just 17 years of age and just thirteen senior appearances under his belt, he is being over used.

Substituted in the 85th minute, Sterling has also been crucial in Brendan Rodgers’ Liverpool squad this year, playing in all but one of their Premier League game this season.

With so much weight placed upon the young talent’s shoulders, it is hard to imagine he won’t suffer from burnout or a prolonged injury.

Last night saw the return of Arsenal midfield man Jack Wilshere when he replaced Cleverley. Wilshere has only just returned from a 15-month injury layoff and he himself admitted the England recall seemed a little swift.

Before his ankle fracture, Wilshere had stamped his place as a key man in the Arsenal first-team, playing 49 games for the Gunners and a further five games with England in the 2010-11 season alone.

The inevitable England call came, and he played fantastically, but it is hard to ignore the stress through which his body must have gone to put in the consistent and combative performances he did without any considerable rest.

If Wenger maintained the same fear factor as Ferguson over the years, it is unlikely Wilshere would be back in the international mix so soon.

The use of the tidy playmaker is reminiscent of a young Andres Iniesta making his name at Barcelona. Iniesta was given a role in the Spanish national team early, but was still used sparingly.

Announcing himself on the international scene by scoring his first Spanish goal against England back in 2006, Iniesta steadily worked for his place at both club and country, and, as we all know, became an integral part of Spain’s tika-taka trophy haul in the last three major tournaments.

Clearly, Cleverley is not at this level yet, but it’s reassuring to know that United are still blooding their youngsters the way they always have, it’s just a shame the same can’t be said for the rest of England’s young talent.

Please note: Opinions expressed above are those of the journalist and do not necessarily represent the views of Mancunian Matters.

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