It’s great that the football is back. Partly that’s because I love football, but also because I’ve spent the summer without any good excuse as to why I couldn’t bond with the family whilst they watch the box set of Downton Abbey over and over again or take the other half shopping for sparkly, bank balance devouring things. Who knew they’d made so many episodes? Having said that, when the match you ‘desperately’ need to watch is on at 4am then it’s not much bloody help in that regard. But the resumption of United playing football means that those regular ninety minute slots of freedom from period dramas and penury will soon be a regular, wonderful part of life again. Well I’m hoping on the ‘wonderful’ bit. Last season, United spent the best part of nine months trying to bore us to death. But this year will be different goddmit. Maybe.
Louis Van Gaal’s summer cull has begun apace, overpaid dross exiting stage left with little resistance, bar a bit of a teenage whinge from Robin Van Persie that it just wasn’t fair and that he’d stamp his feet. His ode to Ed Woodward at his unveiling in Turkey was akin to a child transparently sucking up to its mum when it knows that it’s dad is on the warpath. All of this because of the man he had assumed would make him one of the first names on the team sheet. After a poor season Louis felt that 1/4 of a million spondoolies a week was a bit much for an ailing sub and thus he was banished to earn his 1/4 million spondoolies a week on another training pitch. It’s a hard life. Anyway, the plan worked and he is gone, soon to be followed by Victor Valdes, whom Louis claims would not adhere to his philosophy and at some point refused to play for the Under 21s last season. One imagines that there’s probably more to this than meets the eye and that the manager has simply concluded that he’s no longer good enough to replace David Please Don’t Go De Gea. The Spaniard surely joined on the basis that he would fill the void left by his countryman’s still up in the air move to Madrid when the time came, but alas it shall not be. I say alas despite not having the slightest idea if Valdes can still keep nets or not, but it was a nice dream while it lasted.
Another who may leave is record signing Angel Di Maria, who has looked and played like he’s got a mard on since he joined last summer, the move to Paris St Germain that he so craved falling through at the last. There’s a strange propaganda war going on, with those who are close to the Argentine and the Colombian, Radamel Falcao intent on insisting that Van Gaal was totally the fault for their failures and that he had slowly sucked the confidence out of the whole squad. This line of argument might hold some water if any other player at United had perceptibly declined during the course of last season, but they didn’t. None of them. It’s a remarkable coincidence that those who performed far beneath their perceived abilities are the ones perpetuating this version of events. Strangely enough both are represented by one Jorge Mendes, the Machiavellian agent and propaganda merchant. Their complaints have allowed sections of the media to portray Van Gaal as an impossible man to work with, and yet it seems only to be those who need to make excuses that are offering them. Sometimes signings don’t work out and players faces don’t fit, with any manager. Look at Juan Cuadrado, Mohammed Salah and Felipe Luis at Chelsea, or a former player like Juan Mata, or the now the £70m rated Kevin de Bruyne. For filtering out players who won’t or can’t play the way he wants them to Van Gaal is painted as a rabidly egotistical autocrat, whilst Jose’s mistakes are quietly ushered from the building and the Portuguese is painted as a decisive leader of men, rightly slaying those who refuse to follow his enlightened path, even if he bought them in the first place. Strange isn’t it?
As for incoming players, after the euphoria of Woody throwing grenades around and signing three terrific players in Darmian, Schweinsteiger and Morgan Schneiderlin, it’s all gone a bit quiet. All faired well in the 1-0 win over Club America, the Frenchman in particular standing out in his forty-five minutes on the pitch during which he scored an early goal and quietly controlled the game. The joy at having a talented, functioning midfield will take a while to sink in, as will the sight of the greatest Teuton alive in a United shirt. Huzzah. But it’s suddenly dawned on us that what has come so far simply won’t be enough. Realistically, with nineteen days and three friendlies until the big kick-off against Spurs, this squad isn’t ready. Most urgent is the need for a commanding centre back. United appear to be playing a risky game with Real over DDG and Sergio Ramos. It has been extremely satisfying to see Woody stand up to Florentino Perez, but the fear is that neither will flinch and United will be left empty handed and, most likely, with an empty trophy cabinet as well. James Ducker of The Times maintains that Valencia’s magnificent Beardy Monster is, contrary to other reports, not a target, which leaves us wondering just who the f*ckety f*ck is. Either way, the club need to get a shift on because kicking off in August with Daley Blind at centre back (as Van Gaal has implied he may do) would mean no party and no presents. However, the Dutchman has also given the impression that he wants another two players, so let’s hope at least one of them isn’t a reserve goalie.
What is most unnerving is that as well as a new CB and possibly goalie United really need a forward. It doesn’t have to be an out and out striker, but an adaptable player who can play anywhere along the line, particularly with Di Maria’s future in doubt. In the U.S. Ed Woodward took a break from his media silence and had lunch with an assortment of UK journalists, and Neil Custis. The upshot of that tryst was that those present all came away with the impression that United would be playing with one striker next season, that that man would be Rooney and that Van Gaal wasn’t particularly fussed about buying a striker to replace RVP and the perpetually dizzy Colombian wildebeest Radamel Falcao. Bad times, particularly as that now means relying on Whinearito. The club would however, he claimed, be pursuing Barcelona’s Pedro. Given that the word for the summer, sponsored by Sesame Street, has been ‘discretion’, this sudden Glasnost smells a bit fishy. How would it benefit United to tell everyone what they were doing, unless of course it is an elaborate smokescreen for something else?……
Anyway, smokescreens are good, because it means that there is something to hide. And United sure need some new players if they want any hope of challenging for honours next season. After all the excitement and a positive first pre-season friendly performance and result, in which youngster Andreas Perreira also shined, the realisation has suddenly struck that the new season is close and United aren’t yet remotely ready. The last month suggests that ultimately they will be, but the fans are scarred by years of the club failing to see the flaming f*cking obvious. However, this summer feels different, and ultimately I think it will be. If the final pieces of the jigsaw are in place in August, United will suddenly take a hell of a lot of stopping. If not, purgatory awaits us once more. Purgatory is rubbish. Ed needs to take off his top once more and get back on the horse.