Reds of two different types were standing by at lunchtime on Saturday, waiting for potentially epochal news stories to drop in the northwest of England.
Over in Liverpool, there were desperate members hoping against hope that an aged and destructive leader might be about to be deposed. Whilst over at Old Trafford...ah, I sense you saw that one coming. As one colleague quipped: “Neither Corbyn nor Rooney is really suited for the No. 10 role.”
Jezza survived his opponents’ coup attempt, but Wazza did not. And unattractive though it is to crow over the defenestration of someone who, in his time, has been a good servant to the cause, it was hard to resist for many Reds.
Reworking a distasteful hit from the time of Mrs Thatcher’s death, one pal sang “ding dong / the snitch is dead”, a reference to the Rooney camp’s occasional dimly-viewed resort to off-the-record presspack briefings, such as the one conducted before the Euros. Twitter exploded with a mix of joy and relief; Old Trafford itself hummed with the anticipation of seeing some sort of release on the pitch.
And boy, did they get it.
Having spent much of the past fortnight arguing we should not be over-reacting to the so-called Old Trafford crisis, it’s only fair that one should now preach a bit of caution. The six minutes that saw United score three times were, quite clearly, the highlight of the whole year so far, and not just because they might cruelly be titled ‘Gone In 360 Seconds’ as far as Rooney is concerned. But it should not be forgotten that even a very poor Leicester had still managed to completely dominate the opening quarter of the game, and were very unlucky to lose the initiative.
Moreover, the fact that so many elements finally clicked into place during United’s 20-minute purple patch — pace, movement, invention; all the stuff we’ve so missed for years — doesn’t mean The Answer has now arrived on a plate. Mourinho still has plenty to work out in terms of personnel and deployment, with few believing we are anything like the finished product yet. Not least because Rooney “hasn’t gone away, you know”; he may be a partly decommissioned weapon but, until properly buried, he could still be an explosive issue.
Mourinho has declared that Rooney will be back, in some shape or form, and had earlier slightly comically claimed Wayne was simply being “rested” in order to face the onerous might of, umm, Zorya on Thursday. You can appreciate the tricky politics of this for the manager, simultaneously wishing to stamp his authority on the team-building process whilst not completely alienating a hugely powerful and potentially dangerous dressing room presence. The Jose-Rooney relationship is now inevitably going to be transformed into a soap opera, and carries with it slight echoes of the old Fergie/Beckham battle.
Now what, then? One doubts we’re going to learn very much on Thursday, given the nature of the opposition and the competition, so it’ll be the line-up for the visit of Stoke over which newly-enthused Reds will be poring. For most of us, the apparent resurrection of our darling Spaniards, Mata and Herrera, has arrived like the answer to a prayer; Rashford’s increasing grip on a first team place is universally welcomed; and the possible eventual prospect of The Armenian behind The Bosnian-Swede sounds as exciting as it does exotic.
So Saturday will go down in history, to be sure — it was obviously one of those games you’ll always remember. But it still remains to be seen whether scoring four goals against a reigning champion indicates a bright new dawn — as it did against Aston Villa in 1981/82 — or merely a brief misleading flicker before night draws in, as beating Arsenal in 1989 proved to be. Mourinho still has it all to prove here, and it’ll take more than 20 minutes.
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