WATFORD, ENGLAND - Wednesday, February 19, 2014: Liverpool's substitutes Sam Hart, Daniel Cleary, Jerome Sinclair and Pedro Chirvella before the FA Youth Cup 5th Round match against Watford at Vicarage Road. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Ex-Liverpool defender sues former team-mate over “me or him” tackle in training

Ex-Liverpool defender Daniel Cleary is suing former team-mate Tom Brewitt over a training ground tackle the latter said he hoped would put him “out of the way.”

Cleary (pictured centre) was part of the academy for four-and-a-half years between 2012 and 2016, coming through the ranks alongside Liverpool-born Brewitt.

The two centre-backs found themselves vying for an unlikely first-team bow under Jurgen Klopp in 2015 as the Reds faced a crisis of options.

With Dejan Lovren, Kolo Toure, Mamadou Sakho and Martin Skrtel all ruled out for the FA Cup clash with Exeter, the manager was expected to call up options from the academy – which prompted Brewitt to take action.

Speaking on the Football Journeys podcast in 2020, Brewitt conceded “trying to hurt” Cleary with a tackle in training which left the Irishman on crutches and therefore “out of the way” when it came to Klopp’s plans.

Four years on from the tie – which saw neither player feature with Joe Maguire brought in instead – Cleary is seeking over £200,000 in damages from Liverpool and Brewitt.

Impact on Cleary’s career

BANGOR, WALES - Wednesday, January 4, 2017: Liverpool's Tom Brewitt in action against Bangor City during an Under-23 friendly match at Bangor University Stadium. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Per the Liverpool Echo, Cleary’s claim is that Brewitt’s challenge played a part in the “loss of a top-level career.”

The defender’s barrister Satinder Hunjan KC explained that Cleary was “confident” of being selected, with the tackle claimed to have altered his running gait, limiting his career opportunities due to further injury and causing depression.

His damages claim was launched as a direct result of Brewitt’s comments on the Football Journeys podcast, but the latter’s defence lawyer denied those were an “admission he deliberately tried to hurt Cleary and take him out the game.”

The Echo‘s Richard Gittins reports that “both the club and player deny liability,” with Liverpool insisting that “their players are taught to play to the rules.”

‘Club and player deny liability’

KUALA LUMPUR, MALAYSIA - Friday, July 24, 2015: Liverpool's Daniel Cleary in action against a Malaysia XI during a friendly match at the Bukit Jalil National Stadium on day twelve of the club's preseason tour. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Representing the club, barrister Pippa Manby argued the challenge was “not considered particularly serious or egregious and/or deliberate by those refereeing and overseeing the training match.”

Manby added that Liverpool did not view Cleary as having first-team potential, with Maguire considered better and Tiago Ilori, who partnered Jose Enrique at centre-back for the initial tie and its replay, recalled from loan to address their injury problems.

Brewitt’s defence claimed the contact was “accidental” after the player, who is now at Swindon Town, saw his foot “roll over the top of the ball” and connect with Cleary’s leg.

A full trial will be heard at a later date, during which Brewitt’s appearance on the Football Journeys podcast will no doubt be aired.

“I knew it was a bad tackle and I did it on purpose”

BIRKENHEAD, ENGLAND - Monday, March 13, 2017: Liverpool's Tom Brewitt watches from the stands as the Reds take on Chelsea during the Under-23 FA Premier League 2 Division 1 match at Prenton Park. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

“It was me or him, so I went after him in training,” the now-27-year-old said at the time.

“Before Christmas, and the time between Christmas and New Year, I put myself next to him in possession games, I put myself next to him in games, and I just kicked him.

“I wasn’t trying to hurt him badly, but I was trying to hurt him enough so that he was out of the way and I would play.

“It was about a week before the Exeter game, and I took a bit of a heavy touch in seven-a-side, and he’s coming in to tackle me.

“I waited a split-second too long and absolutely topped him. Went over the ball, it was a bad tackle.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Tuesday, September 16, 2014: Liverpool's Daniel Cleary in action against PFC Ludogorets Razgrad during the UEFA Youth League Group B match at Langtree Park. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

“I knew it was a bad tackle and I did it on purpose. I’m not incredibly proud of it, I’m not ashamed of it either because in my head it was either me or him and I was choosing me.

“There was a bit of a scuffle afterward and I think he got sent in for his reaction, and rightly so, his reaction was probably bang on.

“I finished off the session and he was on crutches for the next two weeks, so it was sort of, not mission accomplished because I think that’s a bit harsh, I just needed him out of the way for this game.”

Cleary left Liverpool for Birmingham City in 2016 and has since played for Dundalk, St Johnstone and currently Shamrock Rovers.

Brewitt departed for Middlesbrough in 2017 having never played for Liverpool’s first team, and is now with Swindon in League Two after spells with AFC Fylde, Morecambe and American sides Tacoma Defiance and Hartford Athletic.