TOM Cleverley can tell he is up against some stiff competition for an England place if Manchester United team-mate Michael Carrick only has 22 caps.
Cleverley has reported for duty ahead of the Three Lions’ rematch with Euro 2012 conquerors Italy tomorrow, just as he did 12 months ago when Holland were the opposition. Then, the London riots scuppered his hopes of making his senior debut. The injuries that wrecked Cleverley’s season struck shortly afterwards, meaning he heads to Berne still seeking his first international appearance.
Carrick is keen to kick on too after ending his self-imposed England exile, and his United team-mate believes the quality of his fellow midfielder cannot be called into question. “Michael is a fantastic player, one of the best I’ll ever play with,” said Cleverley.
“This country must have had some good midfielders if he’s only won 22 caps. Sometimes you need to see it first-hand with Michael to realise how good he is. A lot of clubs have those players who are massively important but go under the radar a bit.”
Unlike Carrick, who has largely been injury-free throughout his career, Cleverley would surely have made his England breakthrough by now if it had not been for the foot and ankle problems that kept him out for so long. And the 23-year-old accepts he is making up for lost time.
“Sometimes you can get frustrated and think I’ve missed this or that. It’s how you bounce back. 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.”
Now Cleverley is one of the players responsible for extending the feelgood factor generated by an Olympics he was a part of with the Team GB football team. The Bradford-raised player still has to pinch himself to think he was part of the global event, even though his own contribution started before the opening ceremony and ended on the first weekend with a penalty shoot-out defeat to South Korea. “I look back on it as being just amazing,” said Cleverley. “If there’s a Team GB going to Rio in four years’ time and a young player at United asked me about it, I’d advise them to go.”
Although the football schedule meant he only got to spend three days in the Olympic village, Cleverley was struck by the interaction between athletes from different sports. He had a chat with boxer Junior Agogo - “a big United fan” - and noted how basketball star Kobe Bryant was surrounded by fellow competitors eager for a chat, or even an autograph. “I didn’t speak to him,” said Cleverley. “He seemed to be getting a bit of hassle, although no more than Ryan Giggs.”