Our reaction on next weekend’s international break tells you something about what The Special One has already changed at Old Trafford.
For the past three seasons, these interregnums have invariably been greeted with a collective sigh of relief, usually signalling the chance for Poor David or Van Loony to heal one of the developing open wounds. A chance seldom taken, which is why Ed Woodward finally had to bite the bullet and call for Dr José.
Now, suddenly, we’re back in the Good Old Days, when internationals were habitually a trigger for us to bemoan such unwanted impediments to our flow. United fixtures have gone from being something almost to be feared to Events with a capital E relished in the anticipation, and then devoured with the pleasure of a gourmand.
Thus sticking to comestible allusions, I salute one of my colleagues for his terrible immediate postmatch headline suggestion yesterday: ‘Rashers saves Mourinho’s bacon!’ Another crooned: “I’d forgotten what it was like to see United chase a winner in the last stages of a game and actually feel there was a chance we’d get one. In fact, it felt like it was never in doubt. Now that’s what it should be like watching United.”
The Red-end goonage that greeted Rashford’s winner will provide an enduring memory of summer 2016 — not that it felt very summery on Humberside. Given those conditions, and the tremendously impressive bus-parking resolve displayed by the home side, the controlled frenzy of United’s performance in those last 20 minutes deserve every accolade going.
Even Rooney, stinkingly awful for much of the first hour, rose to the challenge to provide the winner, his wingplay reminiscent of the set-up for Zlatan’s goal against Southampton. The army of establishment pundits and ex-pros duly hosannahed as only Wayne cultists can but, as this paper’s Miguel Delaney ruefully noted at fulltime, it was precisely the sort of once-a-match Rooneyism prolonging a run in the team that many think needs to end.
Why? Because, say a majority of Reds I listen to, he slows us down — as does Mata, if he’s not deployed properly — and because his control has become substandard. His inadequacy was at the root of United’s first-hour problems on Saturday. Mkhitaryan’s dazzling cameo and Rashford’s headline-grabbing verve point to the future, and it’s pacey — certainly pacier than Rooney can manage these days. As one colleague put it, “watching Rooney run at full pace is like watching your washing machine shuffle across the kitchen floor. Except that my washing machine can dribble.” Ouch.
Yet a minority persists in having faith, with one pal reasoning that if José can make Fellaini so much better in just a few weeks, then why not give him the chance to turn Rooney into something worth keeping? It’s a fair argument, but what would this idealised refurbished and retrained Rooney look like, even supposing that José could create it? And how would he fit into a team which should necessarily have Zlatan, Mkhitaryan, Pogba, and either Rashford or Martial in it?
Doubtless these debates will continue all autumn as José continues to daub the rest of the picture he’s trying to paint. We can all see it’s a work in progress — the difference being, compared to the similar processes started by LVG and Moyes, that José is still managing to maintain decent customer service whilst he tinkers with the back-office HR, if you’ll allow the metaphor-switch.
Other forthcoming attractions star the Manchester derby in a fortnight, which all can agree has come too early for both bosses, and some exotic cup matches after last week’s draws. If you had been wondering whether we’ll travel anywhere further back in time than Northampton Town in the League Cup, then the Europa League has provided an answer: eastern Ukraine. And the transfer window closing hadn’t even occurred to me. What a refreshing change. Thanks to Dr José’s treatment, we actually feel fine: no more medication required. For now, at least.
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