Tom Cleverley believes it is good for English football that Manchester United are title contenders again, with the midfielder delighted to see his former reserve team boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer succeeding.
The 31-year-old came through the Red Devils’ youth system and went on to make 79 first-team appearances, winning the Premier League as Sir Alex Ferguson brought a triumphant end to his reign in 2013.
There has not been a sustained title charge since then, although United are in the hunt this season and will usurp Liverpool at the top of the standings if they get a positive result at Burnley on Tuesday.
But first comes Saturday evening’s FA Cup third-round tie against Championship outfit Watford, whose midfielder Cleverley is happy to see his old club back on an upward trajectory.
“Obviously I spent three, three and a half years in the first-team but a lot of time in the academy and things like that, so, yeah, it’s great to see how well they’re doing in the league again,” he said.
“I think it’s good for English football that Manchester United are title contenders, so I’m looking forward to it.
“Obviously there’s not been a title challenge for seven, eight years now. It’s still early days, we’re not even halfway through.
“But, yeah, the way they’re playing and the players they’ve got and the attacking flair they’ve got, then the signs are looking good, even though they probably want to play it down right now.”
Cleverley’s spell in the United first-team was bumpy at times, having come through the ranks at a club where his reserve team manager was current boss Solskjaer for a short period.
“Obviously he’s a nice guy and a real friendly character around the place,” he said.
“You could speak to him, you could ask him advice and, yeah, he just seemed a natural coach.
“I think I can remember him doing his badges and he even took my age group for that when I was really young.
“But at the time he was just brilliant, brilliant for our strikers as well because he was probably one of the best finishers Man U have ever seen.
“I’m just really pleased for him that it’s working out for him there.”
Cleverley believes Solskjaer and the players deserve more credit for the progress being made at Old Trafford, where he felt the might of the scrutiny first hand and abuse saw him close his Twitter account.
🗣️ Ole: "We can react to disappointments and we enter this competition wanting to win.— Manchester United (@ManUtd) January 8, 2021
“I think the criticism that they’ve got in the last year or so is very unfair at times,” he said. “I mean, especially their individual players.
“They’re doing a fantastic job and sometimes it’d be nice to see praise for people like Harry Maguire, who plays every game, he’s to a high level but when he does have that one bad game everyone seems to jump on it.
“So, I think against all the adversity they’re doing a great job and, yeah, like I said before it’s, it’s good for English football if Man United are contenders, which it looks like they could be this year.”
Cleverley is looking forward to seeing some familiar faces on Saturday. Former team-mate Michael Carrick is now part of the United first-team coaching set-up, where he was this week joined by Darren Fletcher.
“Fletch I speak to quite regularly,” Cleverley said. “Obviously it is nice to see that he has gone back in there.
“When he had his illness he took the reserve team for a few games and I always thought ‘wow, he is going to be a real good coach’ so it’s nice to see Fletch has got back in the first-team set-up there.
“For me he has all the attributes (to be a manager). There’s a few of us still in a WhatsApp group who played in those years at United and whenever Fletch has an opinion on something he’s the kind of guy you’d listen to. I’d trust his football opinion.
“Very bright guy, his football intelligence and when he took those reserve team games when I was there he seemed a natural coach as well, so it looks like a good appointment for Manchester United.”
But while Cleverley’s affection for his former club is clear, Saturday is about making the most out of a free hit in Watford head coach Xisco Munoz’s third match in charge.
“We’ve got nothing to lose,” he said of Saturday’s FA Cup third-round encounter.
“It’ll be a good stadium, good pitch, maybe a chance to see our new signing.
“So, yeah, it’s a positive game for us. We can go up there and try and show everyone what we’ve got.”
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