London: England manager Roy Hodgson has spoken out in defence of Manchester United midfielder Tom Cleverley after he became the focus of criticism over his club`s current struggles.
With United 15 points off the pace in the Premier League, out of both domestic cup competitions and now floundering in Europe, Cleverley has found himself singled out in the media and on social networking websites.
The chief criticism levelled at him has been that he does not do enough on the pitch to justify his place in the United team, which prompted the 24-year-old to admit recently that he felt like a "scapegoat".
However, he continues to be selected by United manager David Moyes and Hodgson has named him in his 30-man squad for England`s friendly game at home to Denmark next week.
"The strengths I see are the strengths that David Moyes sees as well, because he picks him on a fairly regular basis himself," Hodgson said on Thursday.
"I don`t think there`d be many people who would deny that he`s a talented footballer. He`s a very good passer of the ball, very involved in the game.
"When things were going well for Manchester United, people enjoyed what he was doing: getting on the ball, keeping it moving, making certain that he was working hard to get back in position and help out defensively.
"Unfortunately, because at the moment he`s playing in a team where the results are not going their way, the spotlight sometimes lands quicker on the Cleverleys than it maybe does on some of the better-known players or players who had very good seasons last season."
However, while asserting that he will not select players purely on form, Hodgson warned Cleverley that he risks missing out on a place in the 23-man squad for the World Cup if his performance level drops.
"If Tom`s going to get in the 23, then he`ll have to play well in the coming matches, because the fact he`s in the 30 doesn`t guarantee him a place in the 23," Hodgson said.
There were five United players in the latest England squad, with Michael Carrick and Cleverley joined by Chris Smalling, Wayne Rooney and Danny Welbeck, but Hodgson dismissed suggestions that the English champions` travails could have a negative impact on his World Cup plans.
"It would be great if all the teams where a lot of England players are involved were flying, but life doesn`t give you those types of things," said Hodgson, who names his final World Cup squad on May 13.
"It`s up to the players to deal with that and to make certain that they don`t bring their woes, if they have any woes, to England and have that impact upon us."
Hodgson has awarded a first call-up to 18-year-old Southampton left-back Luke Shaw and also kept faith with striker Jermain Defoe, who is due to join Toronto FC on Friday having made only two substitute appearances for Tottenham Hotspur in 2014.
Hodgson said that Defoe`s move to Canada need not jeopardise his chances of playing at the World Cup, but he also conceded that the comparatively weak level of Major League Soccer could count against him.
"Where Jermain Defoe`s concerned, there`s a player who for two years has been a part of all our squads, has come on and done a good job for us on many occasions, a player we trust and know," he said.
"The move to Toronto won`t necessarily count against him. I`ll judge it on what the player brings, what I think he will add to the squad, and of course there`ll be an element of his form and how he`s playing.
"And you can`t deny of course that playing in Toronto can`t be put on a par with playing in the Premier League -- no-one would expect me to say that.
"All these factors will be taken into consideration when we make our decision."
I`ve always said the person who wins the world championship this year is the person who does the best job on the circuit, but that does not seem the way it is at the moment.