After all, I have just realised that it’s solipsistic-anniversary time: this is the tenth United season we are kicking off together here. And curiously we find ourselves in exactly the same spot as when we started back in August 1999, with United preparing to defend double English and European championships.
So I’ll ask the same question I asked back then in column 1: “is this season to be a case of ‘after the Lord Mayor’s show’ as one of Fergie’s favourite phrases has it?”
Sunday’s display and result disappointed, yes — but surely it’s more a case of us not having our collective trousers up yet. We’re still in our metaphorical trunks, unready for action: so get back to us on that question after the summer’s final beachy jaunt in Monaco next Friday. After that, we should have a few of our crocked or unavailable regulars back – and just in the nick of time too, given the imminence of the Chelsea and Liverpool clashes.
Interesting though it was to watch such relatively unfamiliar figures as Da Silva, Campbell, and the hairdresser-accident wearing 30-something whose name I can’t spell, we don’t want to be seeing TOO much of them again just yet, ta very much. We’ve had a post-European Cup personnel crisis before, actually: forty years ago, Matt Busby’s last season was wrecked from the outset by injuries and yet we still came within one disgracefully disallowed goal of reaching a second successive European Cup Final.
That successive Final is the primary goal this year, and everyone knows it: forget the ‘World Championship’ (sic) hype that will arrive sometime in November when the selling operation kicks off, and also the professional’s standby guff about ‘your domestic title is always the priority’. As Fergie has often said, with a wistful lilt in his voice, the true continental greats get to the top and then continue to hang defiantly around until prised off the summit.
So he sees this in terms of Real in the 50s, Ajax and Bayern in the 70s, Liverpool, Milan, Juventus in the 80 and 90s, and he is right: it is one of Fergie’s most attractive strengths that he will not settle for laurels and that he doesn’t need to be told that there’s still so much more to do. That Scouse nightmare of the 18th O.T. league title will come soon enough in due course: what we all want now is this current team to be properly sanctified in our history by a second Big One.
Why qualify with ‘properly’ sanctified? Because in our heart of hearts, we all know we were almost embarrassingly second-best in Moscow, and that the entire campaign last year was underwhelming in its glory content. Compared to 1999, which had at least six matches whose videotapes you would want to watch again and again for pure pleasure — I am smiling fondly at these Proustian rushes on my shelf as we speak — there was not one such replayable Euro game last season.
That’s why a large grumbling minority has demanded better this year. Harsh taskmasters they may be — but that is The United Way in a nutshell.
What would help in that task, naturally, is the prospective acquisition of a striker that’s been dangled in front of us by Fergie, Mickey Phelan again on Sunday, and every hack in Christendom all summer. I must admit I had thought it was all over last Wednesday when I told the Sports Editor the 16-month target Berbatov could possibly be signing that day. But it is still dragging on, with an outside possibility it may even not come off at all. Watching, slightly green-faced, as Nasri and Deco delightfully debuted at the weekend certainly made us hunger for this promised big buy all the more. Ten days of nervous nibbling remain…
Richard Kurt’s Red Army Years is only available via firstname.lastname@example.org