I understand it’s been a good-humoured week for many in Ireland, what with St Patrick’s Day, the rugby international, and the prospective break-up of the increasingly ludicrous United Kingdom.
But over here in Manchester, all we’ve had is the sound of moaning. Much of it Mourinho’s: The state of the pitch in Rostov, fixture congestion, injuries, the price of whitebait down the market...you name it, Jose will have moaned about it.
His volume has been matched by that of the English media, moaning about Mourinho’s moaning. I am now tempted to moan about their moans about his moans, but I fear I’ve reached the legal limit for re-use of the same word in a built-up area.
To be fair, Reds were also having a right old moan about United’s line-up at Middlesbrough, which seemed to have been designed to fulfil Jose’s own sarky prediction about the probability of United losing. Fellaini’s header quietened a few of them down, and the stunning strike by that other less-than-popular stand-in Lingard had some contemplating a full supper of humble pie.
Instead, we then had to endure a comically awful last quarter as United unaccountably switched to six at the back in the hope of holding out. Yes, that’s “holding out” when two goals up against a terrible team who hadn’t scored for 500 minutes. Few were surprised when Boro promptly reset that counter, and it was hands-over-eyes stuff until Valdes’ quite brilliant blunder. For last-gasp hilarity, that beat even the next Prince of Wales being forced to watch his principality’s rugby team collapse in the 100th minute in Paris.
Did we learn anything, then? Nothing that we didn’t already know, on the whole — such as the fact that Chris Smalling is increasingly worse than useless, or that you’d still rather have Pogba and Zlatan in the team than out, despite their recent shortcomings. One thing’s for sure; no-one was heard wishing Rooney might’ve been there to rescue us. At least that’s one strategic decision Mourinho’s incontrovertibly got right.
Doubtless the manager will now be as aggravated as the rest of us by the prospect of enforced time off in order to accommodate internationals.
So enough moaning and attention-deflection; enough slightly suspect attempts to recreate Fergie’s old siege mentality. Let us consider cheerier prospects, such as last Friday’s Europa draw, which is sending us to Anderlecht.
Springtime in beery Brussels is always to be welcomed, and the opponents have a relatively special place in United history, which gives the tie a slightly more burnished glow than is usual in this competition.
Of course, one doubts we’ll be seeing anything like the famous Busby Babes 10-0 of 1956; far more likely there may be some pant-moistening tension, such as that endured by Busby’s team in their 1968 second leg, when they came close to throwing away a four-goal aggregate lead.
United are now bookies’ favourites to win the trophy, which would complete the first class set for United and thus tie up an absurdly long-lasting loose end. Rather more importantly, it still promises to be United’s best bet for forcing their way into the Champions League, with all that this would entail for the summer’s transfer market.
The moaners will still moan if United don’t finish in the top four, of course. Jose did his best last week to argue the league had changed, that our old monopolar dominance was gone forever, and we had to get used to being just one of a big half-dozen playing musical chairs. But most Reds will never accept this. United exceptionalism remains the single most adhered-to ideology in Old Trafford’s stands, and no amount of Mourinho moaning will change that.
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