I can still recall that initially magical televisual afternoon, sitting in my little flat watching City desperately flailing about in a third division play-off final, hugging myself in delight and wondering whether existence could be any more perfect.
Well, they somehow got out of jail later that afternoon, and the Blue reprobates have been slowly rehabilitating themselves ever since, until we have reached the pretty pass that faces us Reds this week. City are carrying the swagbag, and there’s no point us calling the cops (though the Kop might yet play a part in easing proceedings.)
Not only do we have to endure watching on as a devil versus deep blue sea European quarterfinal unfolds — from which United can only emerge the losers, though on balance I want LFC to win — but also, in between the two legs, we face the prospect of the unbearable. Defeat at the weekend would mean watching them parade a third league title in half-a-dozen years right in front of us, doubtless with United players being forced to provide honour guards and deferential fawning too.
Obviously, one never wants United to lose, but one can’t help guiltily feeling that formally surrendering the title chase earlier might’ve been welcome, given the circumstances, but at least we have helped set ourselves up for this dénouement by providing a very good first half to settle Swansea’s hash on Saturday.
Mourinho then raved about our display as if it truly counted, or would be remembered in, say, a month’s time. Yes, United were committed, lively and businesslike, but Swansea are a terrible team and played poorly. The second half was simply snoozeville. Some then grumbled at full-time that in the Good Old Days, Fergie’s team would’ve seized the opportunity to stick six past such a rabble. Hmm...
Stepping aside that inviting debate about the memory-distorting powers of nostalgia, it’s easy to excuse Mourinho’s men for taking the foot off the pedal, given the road ahead next weekend. All will be forgiven if they crash that party, even Pogba with his hairstyles/air of petulance/lackadaisical approach (delete as per your preference). To be fair, he has had a good week, playing his part in United’s goals and scoring himself for France. Ditto Jesse Lingard, knocking up the assists and netting for England, thereby securing a herogram interview sequence from BBC’s Football Focus. All this reminded us that players will soon be starting to think about the World Cup, which is rarely good news for United’s ilk during a run-in.
Wisely, Lingard was keen last week to thank José for his season-long “help”. Pogba will not be rushing to emulate this. I am told things remain “frosty” between Mourinho and the Frenchman, as do relations between the manager and Luke Shaw, whose dressing room bust-up two weeks ago was finally aired in the UK Daily Mail.
I was told a slightly different version of that tale by a Lisbon source at the time, one in which a “welling-up” Shaw supposedly told José at half-time: “If you’re so fed up with me, why don’t you sub me, then?” To which Jose responded by subbing him. Cards have been marked, and Domino’s Pizza’s loss would be our gain.
Bang on cue, then, came yesterday’s Sunday Times tale from the Rui-connected Duncan Castles, which essentially sentenced the entire United defence to career death this summer (bar Bailly). Six weeks ago I reported here that José simply “didn’t trust” his defence, and that we might expect reinforcements; it seems as though they might be on their way. Playing 30-something converted wingers at fullback is not sustainable in the long term. Neither are Phil Jones and Chris Smalling.
Next Monday, if the weekend goes badly, we’ll meet again here for a City Title Tribute special, where we can doff our caps to the better men and wish them all the best for the future. (It’s still April Fool’s Day, as I write, of course...)