We’ve only gone and gotten ourselves our own website! Pretty cool huh? Three cheers for that! As a result of the restructuring and maintenance work that has been going on, I last blogged just before the Europa league final. Therein that period when United went into auto-pilot of the remainder of the domestic campaign, pending the game on which the success or otherwise of the whole season depended.
Turns out, we won the Europa league! Jose Mourinho loves a team with a pretty Plan A. You only had to watch the first ten minutes of the final to see that Mourinho had set his side up to suck the oxygen out of the lively football that the Dutch side pride themselves in. But that is all history now and the club can safely count a 6th European title in the museum. That they are only six was more reason to revel in the moment. European success of any kind is not an every-season experience.
Since that night in Stockholm, the silly season has set in and Jose Mourinho let the world know that he had submitted his transfer plans to United’s de-facto Director of Football, the man who is also the Executive Vice-Chairman of the club, plus any other high-ranking corporate title you can come up with, Ed Woodward. It has conveniently directed fans’ frustration or otherwise during the summer at the accountant and eventually birthed a media story along the lines of the manager being unhappy with his employer over a perceived failure to deliver results in the market.
At least that was the case until last week when the club gazumped Chelsea to Romelu Lukaku who has arrived on a world record fee for a striker. Whilst it’s not the signing that immediately solves all of United’s problems in the first team, it has restored a bit of calm on social media on the subject of Manchester United in the transfer market.
Whilst summer transfer business of any particular club is the only major football commentary that can take place in the summer, fans will do well to be reminded that at Manchester United, the manager still decides every in-coming and out-going. The success or otherwise of any particular signing is on the manager and therefore the opinion of what or whom in particular the club should sign remains just that—an opinion! It is a freedom that I appreciate if only because of the consequences facing the manager if things go wrong during the season. Therefore this blog has time for any signing the club makes, regardless of their first touch!
Speaking of first touches, Wayne Rooney, can you believe, is no longer a Manchester United player! For a season or two, it seemed we were never going to be able to type that sentence. His destiny and that of the club appeared intertwined, so much so that, it will feel surreal to see him in the colours of another premier league team. Time does fly by, and coming to the realization that we’ve seen off another 13 year career of a Manchester United legend should make a fair few start to feel old.
That his legacy remains the subject of much social media debate and polls underlines how much Wayne emotionally divided fans. Most, if not all of that stemmed from two transfer sagas in which he sought to engineer a move away from the club. Worse–one of those moves would’ve been to our bitter neighbours! Personal. Fans might forget what a player did or did not do for them, but they rarely forget how a player made them feel. Wayne’s legacy at the club will remain protected not just by the records he now holds over and above anyone that ever represented the club as a player but also by how he made us feel in those explosive first 8 years of his career.
The anger in him, with which he often kicked a football was a release, not just for himself but also for the fans on the terraces and in the pubs. There was a fire in his belly that ultimately served the club’s cause so well consistently and for so long. Therein that fire was also an admirable quality of sacrifice that allowed the manager and the club a freedom to use him in any way that best served the club’s interests. Fans will not forget the little anecdotes that are often overshadowed by the big story. In modern football, it is difficult to last more than a decade at the same club. Suffice it is to say that Wayne’s contribution could yet out-last our generation and the next. That is a credit to himself.
As a result of that particular departure, Micheal Carrick, the last surviving member of the glorious 2008 team is now the club Captain. Carrick radiates the impression that he has never barked an instruction to a teammate and it’s probably true but he exudes a type of leadership that will be in stark contrast to the more recent captains. He pledged to ‘look after’ the young lads and ‘lead by example’. In a dressing room that will be full of many six footers and more dabs to loud music than you can fathom, it is hopped that at some point, they’ll be able to take note of the professionalism the experienced Geordie will be quietly passing on. It will hold him in good stead that he retains immense respect at the club. And when the music gets too loud, at least Ander Herrera is available to point the rest of the squad where they should all be taking their heed, at Micheal.
Back to the here and now; unlike the dearth-of-games pre-season conditioning of Louis van Gaal, United have a hectic 11 day schedule of six games across the pond starting this weekend against LA Galaxy. More crucially though, United will lock horns with some of the very best sides in Europe, a necessary test ahead of a season in which the club returns to top-tier European competition. Of course pre-season and its results mean nothing in the main but United are desperate to find out how far off they are from being the real deal—-if only because the pressure is really on ahead of the new season. For instance while we should not read too much into the clash against Real Madrid in the States this month, the two sides will be up against each other for the Super Cup next month in what will be a more competitive fixture. Only then shall we be able to gauge what United can offer in the much sought after holy grail of the Champions League.
The more immediate task for Jose Mourinho and his team is to close the 24 point gap that separated them and Chelsea last season. By the time the big kick off comes round, the manager could have at least 7 of his signings as part of the first team. It effectively becomes his team. Manchester United now only boast six players who have past experience in winning the league title but are also remarkably tallied at an average squad age of 24. It is a method that is removed from the past methodology employed by the manager who has a track record of going with the experience. Indeed, United’s current average age is the lowest Jose Mourinho has had since FC Porto in 2004! That is in no small measure because the club have since let go of Bastian Schwensteiger, Wayne Rooney and Zlatan Ibrahimovic (at least for now). If it clicks, United have a spine that could serve the club for years. David De Gea–Eric Bailly–Paul Pogba–Romelu Lukaku. There is an iota of method after-all in United’s otherwise chaotic transfer strategy.
Whilst there remains a couple of deals to be concluded before Jose can be happy with Ed, the pressure will well and truly be back on the manager if his Chairman delivers what he asks for. Given the opposition, United can use the summer to remind themselves of their deficiencies well before the window of opportunity closes for another year.