This week, over the water, Britain is agog. What will the nation decide? It’s too close to call: It may even be several weeks before we get a definitive answer to the question in front of us.
So, after all the debates, and polls, and vicissitudes of the current campaign: Does Van Gaal deserve to govern Manchester United for another term or not? Old Trafford seemed to be tilting towards a hung parliament on Saturday, as its voters witnessed a third defeat without a goal, and cringed as they heard a post-match Louis talk about how “difficult” the task at hand had been. “Difficult”. For Manchester United. Against West Brom. At home. Sheesh.
There is one crumb of mitigation to be had, though, in the suggestion I have picked up that the shocking death of Rio Ferdinand’s young wife may have been a factor. I am told Rio himself spoke to several of his old teammates on Saturday morning and that there was, understandably, a downbeat atmosphere in the run-up to kick-off. Nevertheless, as one colleague muttered darkly in the pub, “had that been Moyes in charge today, we’d have been slaughtering him.”
But it isn’t Moyes, and the victories over City and Liverpool are too fresh in the mind to forget, so on we plough, instead looking forward to the summer window as men in a desert approaching an oasis. Begone, messrs Di Maria, Falcao, Van Persie, Valencia et al: you have surely lingered too long. Woodward has promised the necessary money, and we are already mentally spending it.
Trouble is that we need to get there from here. We need that Champions League spot, which only days earlier had looked all but assured after Liverpool’s hilarious defeat at Hull, or else no-one’s going to be interested in Woodward’s entreaties. Look again at the desert map: in our path towards May 24th, there be snakes, scorpions, and Super Eagles.
I pause here to doff my cap to an occasional reader of this column, once described to me by an Examiner colleague as “the only Crystal Palace fan in Ireland“, who last year complained to the paper about me dubbing his outfit a “second-rate, suburban joke-club”. Rest assured, sensitive Selhurstian, that there’ll be no such vulgar abuse from me this time. Frankly, we now approach South London with humble trepidation, not least because that stadium has truly become a vociferous bearpit, almost unrecognisable as the grim, sullen hovel we remember from (in)famous 1990s visits.
Yes, we’re feeling a bit defensive. So much for the great Spring Offensive, then. Like Ludendorff’s of 1918, it has collapsed a few miles from Paris and is now in danger of burying us all in its retreat. I suppose there’s some poetic justice in the fact that the season’s two great bald disappointments — LvG’s United and Brenda’s LFC — are now to be locked in combat over the comb of fourth spot. Four points separate us, and we are all relying on Jose doing us a favour by being honourable and taking all three points against Liverpool, even though he doesn’t need them. Surely not even United could contrive to blow the gaff then? Surely! Chuntering on in the background, meanwhile, is the never-ending David De Gea saga, which did at least pick up some narrative pace this past week after sagging like a bad American mini-series for most of the spring. Lisbon snouts circling the player’s agent tell me that Real are losing patience and have started issuing ultimatums, which in turn has supposedly concentrated Old Trafford minds as they seek to bar the player’s way to Madrid.
Hopes that Real might have ‘done a Ronaldo’ and allowed DDG another year in Manchester, on the understanding that he transfers to Spain in 2016, have seemingly receded. Thus endgame approaches, with the player being encouraged to react to any eventual Real bid by issuing a request to be allowed to speak to them. You’d suspect that, if we lose at Palace, with all that this might entail, the time would soon come when he wouldn’t need much persuading...”
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