It’s been a rather positive week for fans of Louis Van Gaal’s red and white army. Unless you are poor, unemployed, sick (or could become sick in the next five years), disabled (or could become disabled in the next five years), low paid, work in the public sector, have a child/children at school or university, have been wronged and want access to justice, are under-25, are affected by the Bedroom Tax, have had or may have to wait five days for an ’emergency’ operation on your four year old daughter whose injury is causing excruciating pain, are aghast at the dismantling and selling off of the NHS to private interests or are just generally not alright Jack. Apart from those people. I can relate to four of those, so I can’t say that this week has been faultless. But when I put on my little pink silk nighty, turn off the light, close my eyes and think about the famous Man Utd then it doesn’t seem quite so bad.
You see, not only did United win a game of Association Football, scoring twice after 57 hours without a goal (I think it was 57, right? It felt like it), but they also played and beat Liverpool at a game of transfers. Woooooooo. Although I’m being slightly too self-congratulatory here. In reality the Scouse had already had a good old Smackdown with PSG for the signing of Dutch wunderkind Memphis Depay and were only semi-conscious when Louis Van Gaal appeared and stamped on their face. As Depay tells it, he was all set to sign a bit of paper presented to him by a Qatari gentleman on which was a promise to pay him one biiiiiillllliiioooonnn dollars per week to play for the Frenchies, when the saloon doors swung open and in strutted a smiling Dutchman carrying his genitals in a wheelbarrow. The young winger-cum-striker immediately recognised his favourite uncle (he only calls him that in private. They aren’t related.), took his hand and skipped off to meet a man called Ed who, he was told, could do an amazing trick whereby he makes money shower from his anus. It turned out to be true, so Depay signed for some short, ginger American gentlemen instead and all was well with the world.
United fans are excited and so they should be. With a team of one-paced plodders and technically gifted artistes here is a stacked young man who can run fast, score goals from the left-wing, is versatile, has big muscles, can score free-kicks and speaks better English than half of our fanbase. What’s not to love? Brendan Rodgers loved him, even though he’s now gone full circle and is claiming total ignorance. Deny the man the chance to touch another man’s face and he can get very hormonal indeed. Liverpool will now move down their list of targets before settling on a £35m deal for Matt Jarvis.
So yeah, making big signings in early May is well fun. As is winning football matches and then watching your utterly inadequate rivals for the coveted 4th Place in the Premier League Trophy drop points, making it mathematically unlikely for them to deny you a place in the qualifying round of a really really important competition that you still may not properly play in. So break out the Bollinger, because it looked for a while there like United may fall at the last. And to be fair, against Palace, it seemed for long periods like footing would be lost and the fall would result in a face full of dogsh*t. Fortunately there was David De Gea and his wonderful spider arms and Ashley Young’s disco feet. Big’ups should also go to Radamel Falcao for doing the most productive thing he’s achieved at the club and giving a defender a good shove into his goalkeeper, allowing Maroaune Fellaini to be very tall and nod in the winner.
Aside from that and the penalty, United were somewhat, ahem, disjointed. With Luke Shaw and Wayne Rooney departing through injury the task at hand got tougher, not least because the former’s replacement was Norn Ireland’s finest, Jonny Evans. In fairness to the man, better known as being Helen McConnell’s other half, he’s missed a lot of games recently but is no longer, alas, a competent defender, so things got a bit dicey. United did what they have done for much of the season away from home, moving the ball too slowly and sloppily giving it away and inviting pressure, but the penalty from Juan Mata seemed to give them a degree of confidence. That brittle self-assurance was broken by Jason Puncheon’s deflected free kick, yet another goal conceded where it could be argued that Daley Blind wimped out. Arm covering his beautiful face, looking away from the kick, he failed to jump, looked away as it was struck and the ball deflected in off his luscious, wafty locks. In contrast, just to his left, Chris Smalling stood proud, offering his visage and meat and two veg as a sacrifice for the Palace player. He wasn’t interested, and whipped the ball off Blind’s bouffant and past David De Gea. Bad times.
After that things got decidedly hairy, as United melted away. De Gea made a quite frankly stupendous save from Glenn Murray before Ashley Young scampered forward, nearly scored himself via a deflection and then crossed for Fellaini to win it. Cue wildish celebrations and United fans on the pitch. Some of those who took part will probably moan when the away allocation is cut next year. One appears to be boasting about it on social media which, you’d imagine, wouldn’t go down too well with those who make decisions at Old Trafford. Here’s the thing. When you’re p*ssed jumping about celebrating on a football pitch seems like a bloody good idea. One of my favourite moments was being at Villa Park for that memorable United FA Cup comeback in which Van Nistelrooy scored the late winner. Bedlam. Brilliant bedlam. Bodies everywhere. But such behaviour has been regulated against and ultimately impacts on other fans. The United away support is arguably the best and most vocal in the country. It’s also recognised as one of the hardest to handle. The easiest way to achieve that is to make the numbers of those needing to be handled smaller. Which sucks for everyone, right?
Anyway, back to the football. As I’m sure you’re aware, I’m something of a perfectionist where United are concerned. If we’re going to be relatively average results wise I’d at least prefer us to go down like Muskateers. Much of this season has been death by tedious, ponderous sideways passing and little cutting edge, that wonderful but all too brief spell in March/April aside. The win at Palace was as disjointed, tense and ever so slightly incompetent as ever, but for once I don’t care. When we reflect at the end of the season it may be that many conclude that after spending £150m the fare which Louis Van Gaal has served up has been for long spells average at best. It has, but this weekend all that mattered was securing fourth and the money, prestige and player appeal that Champions League football brings. It was essential as a bare minimum. And the win at Palace, however, disjointed and shaky, means that that bare minimum has been achieved. Just as importantly, it has been achieved at the expense of a desperately average Liverpool side which United allowed back into the race when it seemed it had already been won. At the end style didn’t matter. Falling over the line was perfectly acceptable and most welcome. However, there will be individuals on show at Selhurst Park who, over the course of the season, will not have impressed Van Gaal. They are fast running out of games to prove their worth, and with Woodward morphing from transfer clutz into an ultra-efficient footballer-acquiring cyborg many may soon find themselves at Villa, or in Evans’ case Oldham. For them this mattered. It mattered to Ashley Young, who must surely have long since persuaded his manager of his value and to Marouane Fellaini, who continues to stick it to us all. But it shouldn’t matter to us fans. Three points, job done, now on to a summer in which the manager can spend time assembling his own squad, after which there can be no more excuses. The key target this season was a top four finish, next year it must be a title challenge.
The saddest recent news was that of the death of the wife of Rio Ferdinand from cancer. It appears that it took her extremely quickly. Some of the great minds of Twitter decided to take the opportunity to abuse Ferdinand or mock him over allegations of infidelity. Whatever his personal behaviour within his relationship the man has just lost the mother of his children. Social media often makes me despair about the state of British society. The ugly minority (or is it majority?) managed to show themselves up again. First that, then electing a Tory majority government. There’s no helping some people.