Cleverley under pressure with Thiago interest

Posted by Mark Payne

Tom Purslow/Man Utd/Getty ImagesTom Cleverley will be in a tenuous position should United acquire Thiago Alcantara.

Manchester United are widely tipped to sign Barcelona's Thiago Alcantara either just before or just after they set off on a tour of Asia and Australia. Whether the midfield starlet ends up arriving or not, United's intense pursuit of the midfielder cocks a snook at Tom Cleverley. Despite tremendous improvement last term, the England man sill rarely controls matches and United are looking at their options.

Cleverley is 24 now and can no longer be considered a bright prospect. At the same age, Roy Keane was wiping the floor with every other midfield in the Premier League. When Bryan Robson was 24 he became Britain’s most expensive footballer. There seems little chance of that happening to Cleverley in the near future.

It is, of course, unfair to judge Cleverley with the two finest midfielders United have had, but those two are nonetheless the benchmark for United players in that department. Two years ago, after a bright and promising display in the Community Shield match against Manchester City, Cleverley was seen as the future of United's bursts from deep. Time has not been kind.

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In actual fact, Cleverley has become a reliable squad player, a technician who can do the required work when called upon. He is filling shoes John O’Shea and Clayton Blackmore filled previously. But it seems unlikely that he will ever throttle a game in manner of Keane, or bring a stadium to its knees with a flicker of skill as Paul Scholes might have done.

Alcantra, or just Thiago as he prefers to be called, is the man expected to take on that mantle. His former manager, Pep Guardiola, described the Italian-born Spaniard as a "special player," and it seems there were high hopes for his future.

Encouragingly, Thiago seems to be motivated by actually playing. It is completely reasonable that he might find it difficult to get game-time in a team where Xavi, Andres Iniesta and Cesc Fabregas are competing for similar positions. Nonetheless, he has managed to amass 27 league appearances in each of the past two seasons, although he rarely played a full game.

These numbers are no doubt influenced by a clause in the contract he signed with Barca in 2011. At the insistence of his father Marzinho, a World Cup winner with Brazil in 1994, Thiago is supposed to have featured in 60 percent of Barca’s games for at least 30 minutes. He fell just short of this last term and may see his future being brighter elsewhere. Given this is the case, he will certainly have spoken to United about playing time during negotiations.

If United really are keen on signing the man who scored a hat trick in the European Under-21 final against Italy earlier this month, they will have promised him minutes of the pitch, and lots of them. That can’t be good news for Cleverley, who may see out the rest of his United career as a fill-in and utility player. The England man may think he is entitled to better than that.

Follow Mark on twitter @markjpayne

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