Well, I’ve come down off the ceiling. I still feel deeply contented every time I think about Juan doing his scissor-kick thingy and there’s the knowledge that Liverpool fans must still be aching inside at the perceived injustice of a thoroughly deserved defeat at home to their most hated rivals. It just wasn’t fair playing 10 v 12. But after a while the mind always moves on to the next task at hand, which is to flay Villa to within an inch of their lives. Although on current form you’d give United a fighting chance against anybody it would be rather good for the ticker if we could pulverise Tim Sherwood’s rag-tag bunch of Championship players (and yes, that means you Tom, even though you can’t play) plus Fabian Delph and Christian Benteke. Doing so, combined with an Arsenal win over Liverpool would increase the gap to 5th place to eight points, which would be a nice cushion given that the following two games are against City and Chelsea.
Initially I thought that the international break would be fun, giving us two weeks to revel in our success and a big dollop of schadenfreude, but this weekend was every bit as tedious as previous international breaks. On Friday night, as is customary, fans of various persuasions spent the evening on social media emphasising how sh*t the players of their domestic club competitors were performing for their country. As a United fan this meant paying particular attention to the abject averageness of Jordan Henderson and, most importantly, Danny Welbeck. This can be difficult when the objects of our derision play well, but neither were special against an appalling Lithuania. It always makes me chortle when pundits (and they have this last week) say that international football is ‘a step up’, right before England trot out against a nation whose best eleven would probably struggle in the SPL. It’s one of the host of cliches vomited up by Merson and company on Sky, mindless verbage on a channel where independent, intelligent thought (bar the excellent Neville and Carragher) has long since left the building. Anyway, on Friday Henderson was meh and Welbeck did what Welbeck does: looks tricky and skilful until within sight of goal, then turns to jelly. He did get a goal, and so he should against a nation with a population of 3,000,000 who much prefer playing netball for boys, but it felt like a satisfactory night for partisans everywhere. Arsenal’s fans could hail him and vomit hyperbole about how much potential he has (where have I heard that before?) and United’s could point to the same old flaws and the fact that he has the same number of league goals as Radamel Falcao, which is pretty f*cking embarrassing.
Also of note was that this was only Michael Carrick’s 20th start for England. Imagine, for a decade, not picking a man whose house is overflowing with medals, who controls the tempo of a game and links play beautifully. Imagine not doing so because you just have to play Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard in midfield, or, gulp, Gareth Barry. Dime f*****g bar.
Anyway, England won, although the whole thing was a sizeable non-event. Wayne Rooney scored again, moving him closer to being England’s all-time greatest goalscorer and prompting a raft of newspaper stories about how he’s good, but not as good as those he’ll finish ahead of. He’ll also finish as Manchester United’s top marksman ever, something which will forever make many United fans froth at the mouth. It’s a shame, because he’s been a tremendous footballer for the club, a key figure in their slew of trophies since his signing a decade ago. He has made mistakes, not least his very public transfer request in 2010, but the double standards applied to him are strange. There is every chance that David De Gea will refuse to sign a new contract and ask the club to allow him to join Real Madrid this summer. Most will wish him well and thank him for what he has done for us, saving his teammates ar*es for at least three years. He will, if it happens, join Ronaldo, who asked to leave in his second, fourth and fifth summers at United. Over in Milan, at Inter, is Nemanja Vidic, club captain, who signed a deal with the Italians in the middle of a truly shambolic season. It is a strange and powerful contagion, so virulent that a few Reds spend England games trying to demonstrate that Rooney isn’t much good at all. Odd people.
It’s funny what a difference a couple of weeks can make. Both Chris Smalling and Phil Jones have contracts which expire in just over twelve months. A fortnight ago few would have complained had both been sold this summer, but after strong performances against Spurs and Liverpool the landscape seems to have changed. Reports suggest that neither has been offered a new deal yet, which is wise given their respective injury records and patchy form. But suddenly I’m kind of hoping that they are. I’ve long had high hopes for Jones, but unfortunately, the lights are on but no one is home. Smalling, has always been an accident waiting to happen. Nothing has changed, despite a more solid patch of form, but it may just be that they both have a role to play as future squad members. Send Jonny Evans to the wolves instead. No-one would complain, despite his long service and contributions towards a large number of trophies. You see, it’s ok in the eyes of the fans for a club to dispose of a player they no longer want, who we perceive as not good enough, but woe betide an uber-talented Anglo Saxon United player who asks to leave for personal or professional reasons. But hey, I’m a hypocrite too. Bye Jonny.
He’s been quiet lately, but everyone’s favourite Scots ‘journalist’ has resurfaced, he who spent the entire summer writing remarkable stories about players United had missed out on and criticising Louis Van Gaal at every opportunity. Most notably, it was a huge blow as PSG pipped us to the signing of Angel Di Maria and how the purchase of Marcos Rojo dragged on for months as the player was unable to play until litigation involving Sporting Lisbon and Doyen was resolved. Strangely, a large proportion of the players involved in his stories are clients of super-agent Jorge Mendes, Portugal based or are signing for or being sold by Chelsea. This week he broke the news that Angel Di Maria was desperate to leave United, as was Radamel Falcao, as if the latter has a f*****g choice. Our man made the front page of one of the nationals’ sport sections this Sunday with a story along the same lines but also focusing on the sums involved in the deals and the likely losses the club will incur. The piece also mentioned that the players believe that Van Gaal has managed them poorly and highlighted Falcao’s remarkable scoring record at Porto and Atletico. Oddly enough there was no mention of the Colombian’s terrible injury or abysmal form. It’s almost as if he was trying to persuade other clubs that with a bit of love he would be a world-beater again. Now, I’ve no doubt that Di Maria does want out, but why would United sell at a huge loss, as is suggested in the article, particularly if the principle suitor is PSG? Why should the club sell at all, regardless of the wishes of the player? The fortunes of United’s and Jorge Mendes’ bank balances to a degree rely on both parties keeping each other onside. It would not be wise for the latter to criticise the former publicly, so why not get someone else to do it for you…..
It’s strange. This particular hack writes in the British media relatively little and often seems to pop up when his source has an agenda to push, agendas which, in the opinions of many, have long since seeped into his own personal tweeting and online attitudes. Undoubtedly there is a lot of back scratching that goes on in the world of journalism and ‘favours’ are done quite regularly to maintain good relations with sources, but rarely have I seen a writer so totally in thrall to one source and his biggest clients and so totally lacking in objectivity. Nice work if you out can get it though. No investigation required, just waiting for the phone to ring. And no consequences when many of your stories turn out to be inaccurate. Dream job.
In other totally unrelated news a source has told me that the aforementioned super-agent Jorge Mendes has a love of puppetry. Interesting.
Robin Van Persie has been back in training and should be fit for the game against Villa next weekend. What Van Gaal does with him will tell us a lot. Unquestionably, the manager should take great credit for the tactical victories and player selections made against Tottenham and at Anfield, but it is hard to shake the feeling that those teams were arrived at, at least in part, by circumstance. In particular, the loss of the struggling and static Van Persie to injury and the fall from favour of Falcao necessitated the return to a forward role for Wayne Rooney and the inclusion in midfield of the exceptional Ander Herrera. Even when playing poorly, as he did at Anfield, Rooney’s movement creates spaces for others to exploit and he can and does score goals even when struggling. It will be interesting, therefore, to see whether RVP immediately regains his starting place. The hope is that he doesn’t. Herrera has added class, creativity and energy to a previously slow and ponderous midfield. Sacrificing him to lever in the Dutchman would be a retrograde step, even against Villa.
So now we wait and see how many of our international players cripple themselves this week. If previous international breaks are anything to go by Van Gaal may find himself with few options to chose from anyway. Regardless, bring it on.