It’s been 40 years since Harold Wilson was the British prime minister, but his classic line about a week being a long time in politics keeps coming back on a, umm, weekly basis.
Last time you and I met here, Hillary Clinton was still looking like a shoo-in for the White House, whereupon she performed her reprise of ‘Weekend At Bernie’s’, and all bets were suddenly off. Also, as we have remarked here many a time, a week can also be a very long time in football, with Manchester United’s brilliant impression of a collapsing Hillary down at Watford hammering the point home once again.
Just seven days ago, I was marvelling here at the equanimous reaction of so many Reds to the derby defeat, and wondering how José was getting away with “feeding us Pooh Pie”. Well, as with all dishes, you will get sick of anything if it relentlessly turns up on your plate often enough.
He got a free pass, to some extent, in Rotterdam, so blatant was his disdain for the competition and so obvious his exploitation of the match for some necessary experimentation, but losing 3-1 at Watford with what one supposes to be his first-choice team was what some have deemed to be a ‘reality check’, as The Kidz say.
You regular readers will know what’s coming next: A huge dollop of scapegoatery, flung squarely at that grass-grazer at the centre of our team, namely Wayne Rooney. (Stop groaning at the back, there, you know I’m right.)
For the best part of a year now, many Reds have been trying to call time on this ongoing farrago, thwarted at every turn by some sort of unholy collaboration between fearful bosses, United’s bean-counting Men In Suits, and large chunks of the national press. Those Reds had hoped José would be the man to complete the task that not even Alex managed to finish in 2013, namely squeezing the threadbare Scouser out of the club, for the good of all concerned, him included.
However, yesterday we had to endure watching him uselessly dropping ever deeper into midfield, a midfield whose doors José had earlier assured us Rooney would not be allowed to darken ever again. It was a pitifully inept ‘captain’s’ display and embarrassing for everyone witnessing it. The contrast with livelier presences in the team was at times comic, no more so than when Rashford scored while Rooney’s arms were still flailing over some long-lost decision.
All that said, there’s no avoiding the admission that Rooney cannot carry the blame of burden alone. If José didn’t already know that he’s got his hands full here, he does now, for yesterday was humiliating, and the sheer cluelessness exhibited by many in red demonstrated that the similar befuddlement on show for the first 35 minutes of the derby can no longer be put down to being a ‘one-off’.
Already, you can hear the first mutterings in the Stretford End undergrowth: “How long do we give him, then?” That seems ludicrous, though in one respect, the dissidents have a decent defence. A key José attribute was supposed to be his ‘instant effect’ whenever he goes into a club. After a triple-defeat week such as this, I suppose the doubters are entitled to ask when we can expect to see this effect reflected on the pitch in a consistent fashion, now that the opening volley of wins has been put into less impressive perspective.
So, somewhat chastened, we head for the scarce-trodden wilds of Northampton, and the sort of knock-out cup match in which victory can lift an unlikely underdog onto another plane entirely. Yes, the plucky minnows of United have high hopes of overcoming the odds on Wednesday. Alright, alright; that was obvious and cheaply facetious, but after a week like this, you grab for every wan smile you can. United’s football yesterday may have been a joke, but it was no laughing matter.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved