English is an incredibly rich and capacious language, so it’s odd that it has no phrase for that weird week between St Stephen’s Day and the New Year, when semi-drunk souls stagger around asking what day it is.
The French do, however: they call it the “trêve des confiseurs“, signalling the ancient Yuletide tradition of a period of truce between rival firms.
If we stretch for effect, perhaps we might suggest we saw something of that spirit between the warring ‘firms’ at Old Trafford this past week.
I wrote in last Tuesday’s paper that we had seen “something” during that first half against Chelsea. With hindsight, we think we can now tell what it was: José Mourinho’s Portuguese man o’ war drifting off into the distance. Even the great man himself has apparently recognised this, according to my snouts in Lisbon, who glumly report that he is now “considering other options”.
You could detect some of this resignation in those United fans who had become convinced LVG had to go, in the aftermath of Saturday’s rare victory. There are some football clichés that make you want to poke their utterers in the face with a sharp stick, preferably one that’s been set alight. A classic was much in evidence after Swansea, “a win’s a win”.
Whether we are pro or anti-LVG, we were all trying not to let that statement of the obvious slip out at full-time.
Of course no-one, bar a few cheerleaders, was pretending there was much to write home about in United’s performance, which in many ways seemed to mark a step backwards from the Chelsea match. Tactical chaos mixed with large stretches of boredom to culminate in us clinging on for dear life against the worst Swansea team we’ve ever seen. But we all recognised that those three points felt like they counted treble for LVG’s political account. “They can’t sack him now,” conceded one rebel to me at the whistle: “we might as well face the fact that we are stuck with him.”
Happy 2016, everyone!
That sentiment will be shared by some of the players, despite the propaganda to the contrary being put out by spinners and media lackeys. One foreign star, sharing a drink with a snout o’ mine during the week, admitted that he and his dressing room allies were “amazed” Louis hadn’t been sacked.
But tellingly, the player — who had previously been thinking about exploring other horizons in 2016/17 — also announced that it was his intention to buckle down and make it work for himself in Manchester.
For now, it sounded like a genuine reflection of the wider mood: “it’s not great, but it is what it is. We’ll have to make do and mend.” More clichés, maybe, but sometimes they serve their purpose perfectly.
So on we trudge through the winter squalls, a resentful Grande Armée still faithfully following Napoleon on to Moscow, despite harbouring grave doubts about the wisdom of the methods and the desirability of the goal.
The FA Cup is next, and it’s hard not to cast one’s mind back to 1989/90. Not least because last month’s run had been the worst since then, but also because of the obvious political redolence.
For the Establishment have been scolding us to remember what happened to Fergie: we all ended up sticking by him during that December of doom, and were rewarded by the FA Cup five months later.
It obviously remains LVG’s best hope of a trophy, and it’s one that all fans of the club have become especially keen to win after over a decade of drought.
The home tie with League One Sheffield United ought to be ours for the taking, and could act as a morale-boosting start to a week in which two very awkward away fixtures lurk. If The Shirts can give us a bit more of that Chelsea first-half spirit, then the Christmas week truce may yet last awhile...
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved