This past week has been everything he would have wanted for Christmas; three solidly deserved wins, two of which were, importantly, against the sides directly below and above us in the table, and innumerable signs of players responding ever more positively to what he is trying to do at Old Trafford. (With the possible exception of the lumbering Rooney.) And how pleasing to see him refer in his post-Baggies press gig to the ‘style’ issue. For a second there, he sounded like an eager puppy, keen to hear his master’s approbation for a slipper-fetching job well done. The angry, unhappy Mourinho of early autumn suddenly seems like a bygone era.
Moreover, if it’s true Zlatan has had some concerns about still being able to do it “on a wet Wednesday in Stoke” (sic) come early 2018, one assumes he’ll have taken succour from his own battling personal displays at Selhurst and the Hawthorns. Eleven goals in 16 games now puts him at a Van Nistelrooyian level of efficiency, and there’s no higher standard than that.
Not that this has put off the suitors, mind. Joining the circling Yankee vultures I flagged up last week are Shanghai, who weekend newspapers report are ready to offer him all the tea in China to jump ship next year.
No doubt this kind of story will run and run now, at least until such time as United secure a Champions League berth; it is hard to imagine Zlatan resisting the temptation of one last crack at that trophy.
Even mentioning United in the same sentence as the 2018 European Cup might have seemed faintly ridiculous a few weeks ago but just one defeat in 13 speaks for itself. This team is already hard to beat; it is now threatening to become one that is hard to prevent seizing victory.
Furthermore, the Yuletide schedule looks extremely enticing, if you’ll forgive the flagrantly inflammatory fate-fingering. Pointy-headed geeks at the BBC have calculated that United’s forthcoming trio of matches statistically constitutes the “easiest” Christmas programme of any PL team, offering the chance to close the gap on a wobbling City in particular.
That being said, one should still turn a skunk eye to the imminent visit of Sunderland, who have annoyingly shown signs of getting some sort of act together over the past couple of weeks. Their manager will, of course, require no motivation for this one; poor David will have had this one highlighted in purple marker pen in his colour-coded coaching folder since July.
It’s always a bittersweet moment when a recent boss comes back to United. For all his failings, there’s no doubt that Moyes was poorly treated by some at O.T., both in the boardroom and dressing room. I find it impossible to wish him anything other than well — starting at any point after St Stephen’s Day, of course. He never made the blood boil as much as his successor would do, and he has behaved himself decently since leaving — although admittedly that’ll be partly due to the gagging clause he had to sign.
There’ll be media-friendly boss issues with the subsequent visitors too, because Middlesbrough’s manager is viewed by some as José’s closest ally in the British game. Indeed, it was in his living room, during a visit from Mourinho last winter, that a snout of mine overheard José telling his pal he confidently expected to be the next United manager — which in turn prompted your correspondent to break the local 100 yards record legging it to the bookies.
That bet is now paying for my unexpectedly luxurious Christmas. So may I raise my glass of premium Jurançon to you, clear my palate of Perigordian foie gras, and wish you all a merry one; see you back here on the 27th for a rare Tuesday Terrace Talk.