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Manchester United's loan star Tom Cleverley prepares to take on Chelsea

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09 Apr 2011 14:46:47

Manchester United's loan star Tom Cleverley prepares to take on Chelsea

For someone who has made a habit of serenading his new team-mates with the Bill Withers classic Ain't No Sunshine, Tom Cleverley certainly has a bright future. Three times Cleverley has announced his arrival on loan from Manchester United by singing the tune as part of his initiation, and fans of Leicester City, Watford and Wigan Athletic will vouch that one of the most exciting midfield prospects in the Barclays Premier League can be just as entertaining with a ball at his feet. 'It's my party trick, ' says Cleverley. 'It's a bit of a tradition at all clubs. If it's your first away trip you'll be singing that night. We all eat together and then you have to get up on the chair.' He's no slouch: Midfielder Tom Cleverley has his eyes on a regular place at Manchester United Not every young player would choose Championship football or a relegation battle with Wigan over the high life at Old Trafford, but that is a sign of Cleverley's determination to further his career and prove that Sir Alex Ferguson is right to have such high expectations of him. On Saturday, the England Under 21 international goes to Stamford Bridge with Wigan looking to do his parent club a favour by killing off Chelsea's faint title hopes. However, if singing for his supper is simple enough for the boy from Bradford, the same could not be said for his United initiation at a hotel in Pretoria on the team's 2008 summer trip to South Africa. 'You have to do a little speech,' he recalls. 'One of the experienced players will ask you a couple of questions, and I got Giggsy. I was 18. It is daunting and that's why they do these things. It's not easy to stand up in front of all those names but you have to. It makes you a bigger person.' Cleverley knows all about becoming a bigger person. Just how much he has had to grow up is clear from the compilation DVD given to him by his dad, Andrew, for his 21st birthday last August. From the tiny boy dwarfed by his team-mates in the United U15s as he celebrates scoring on a barren pitch in Kenya in 2004, to the young man claiming a fine goal for Ferguson's side in the Houston Astrodome last summer, it is clear Cleverley has matured into the player his coaches knew he could be if only there was more of him. Spurred on: Cleverley featured in the hard-fought draw with Tottenham At 16, they put him on a different scholarship to the other boys who went into full-time training. He was asked to split his time between United and two more years of school - football's equivalent of 'don't give up the day job'. 'I was never knocked back but I'd say I was doubted,' admits Cleverley, who now stands at 5ft 9in. 'I've never really had it easy in my career. Compared to everyone else in the team I was really small. It was hard for me. 'I always had the confidence that one day I'd be good enough and I always had to let my football do the talking instead of bullying people on the pitch. Even now in the Premier League you see so many big athletes. 'But you just look at three players who were up for the Ballon d'Or - Xavi, Iniesta and Messi. None of them are over 5ft 10in.' A versatile midfielder with an eye for goal, Cleverley might not measure up to Messi just yet, but he has passed every test so far. When Ferguson handed him a first-team chance in South Africa, Cleverley came up with a goal against Kaizer Chiefs. He did the same against Valencia the following year and two more followed on last summer's tour of North America. Inspiration: Cleverley's great uncle, Reg Stratton Before joining Wigan on loan he enjoyed spells in the Championship at Leicester and Watford. It is a period he believes turned him from a boy into a man. 'Living away from home has never been a problem for me,' says Cleverley, who was 11 when he chose United ahead of Leeds and Blackburn. 'I was in club digs by the age of 15 or 16. Although it's fantastic growing up at United, there's a point where you want a taste of first-team football. 'It's a bit strange to keep going out on loan. I don't think anyone can walk into a club and feel at home on the first day but I've gotten used to it. I've had four clubs and hopefully this time next year it's still four clubs and I'm playing for United.' Cleverley and Danny Welbeck are the only members of their United youth team now playing in the top flight, but Ferguson is not short of young talent. He continues to place great faith in youth, insisting there is no value in the transfer market, and Cleverley sees comparisons with this generation and that of Beckham, Scholes, Butt and the Neville brothers. 'I'd much rather the manager didn't buy players because he trusts the youth he's got,' says Cleverley. Hopefully we can prove him right. It's going to be very hard to emulate what they did but we'll give it our best shot. 'There are comparisons. Me, Danny Welbeck and Chris Smalling are with the England Under 21s, which makes us closer, and there's a really good vibe around all the young lads. I think there are 12 or 13 players under 24 at United - Javier Hernandez, the Da Silva twins, Bebe, Gabby Obertan, Darron Gibson, Jonny Evans. There are plenty of lads there well capable of wearing the United shirt.' Cleverley, whose great uncle Reg Stratton played alongside Johnny Haynes at Fulham, admits that Beckham is something of a role model. 'I've never had the blistering pace that other players have had so I always looked to try to play like Beckham. I try to get a bit of Beckham, a bit of Scholes and people have mentioned Park Ji-sung and his work-rate in midfield. They are all great players and I'd love to achieve what they have. 'Growing up at United you learn how to deal with the fame that's ahead. Your feet are always on the ground and you never feel like you've made it.' Cleverley certainly speaks with a maturity beyond his years, even though there are the obligatory trappings of footballer fame at his Manchester apartment - the Range Rover, the 60in television, and a black gloss pool table with red cloth in United's colours. He is almost as handy with a cue as he is with a football. Only the other week he was approached by  a stranger at his local snooker hall. Loan star: Cleverley has impressed at all the clubs has has played for 'The guy had been watching me and came up and said, "Do you fancy coming down on a Tuesday or Wednesday night and playing for our team?". I told him I'm normally busy midweek!' Coming from Yorkshire, it is hardly surprising that Cleverley is into rugby league and cricket - 'I was a batsman with a little leg spin in my locker' - and also plays off a golf handicap of 15 with little practice. But it's table tennis where the battle really begins. 'That's got really competitive with the England Under 21s,' he says. 'There's me and Jordan Henderson fighting for the title and Danny Welbeck, Kyle Walker, Michael Mancienne and Jack Cork all trying to get up to our level. Jordan's trying to take over my trophy but he's not there yet.' Contrary to the words of his signature song, it isn't easy to put Cleverley in the shade.  Fergie on the rampage: Man United boss questions future integrity of referees in rant at the FA over Rooney's banMartinez: ?50m Torres will find his feet and prove to be a bargain buyMy Gran saw me swear on TV! Neville launches attack on FA for Rooney banCan Gary be Neutral Nev in new role as a Sky Sports pundit?All the latest Manchester United news, features and opinionAll the latest Wigan news, features and opinion  Explore more:People: Alex Ferguson, Johnny Haynes, Xavi, Danny Welbeck, Park Ji-sung, Bebe, Jack Cork Places: Leeds, Manchester, Kenya, South Africa


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