The feeling around Manchester right now is that the hiatus is over. It has been a rough three years. Whilst the toils of Manchester United fans must be put in perspective, they are not Syrian refugees or detainees in an Australian detention centre, the choppy waters following Sir Alex’s retirement are hoped to be gone now.
Jose Mourinho was hell-bent on becoming United manager and he has got his own way. In general, you want people at the club who want to be there. It does no harm to know that Jose is immensely capable and has a point to prove after his disastrous spell at Chelsea last year.
Whereas David Moyes was a decent man who was crushed by the size of the job, Louis van Gaal at least had the swagger of a top manager, if not the urgency in his football or ambition. United were not good guys in the way Van Gaal was ousted, but it feels as though fate is taking hold of events now.
Jose is the right man at the right time. Gary Neville put it succinctly this week when he said, “United need to win the title before the wait gets too long like it did before, or it has with Liverpool.” Amen.
The Portuguese is determined to win the league and he will benefit a great deal from following on directly from Louis. It almost doesn’t matter what type of football United serve up this season if they are winning. People had become so disillusioned during the Dutchman’s reign that many had stopped tuning in to every match.
The arrivals of Paul Pogba, Mourinho and Zlatan Ibrahimovic, not least Pep Guardiola across town, mean that United, and Manchester in general, are spectacles not to be missed over the next nine months. It is unlikely to be dull.
Manchester United might just be big enough for Zlatan Ibrahimovic. The man has arrived at Old Trafford with the laser-eyed glared of a winner and has actually showed much more humility than might have been expected.
So far, he has scored two rather scruffy goals in two rather half-paced fixtures but, as they say, it doesn’t matter how they go in. As the rhythm of matches picks up, so will his sharpness, presumably. It was interesting to note that he passed the ball to Wayne Rooney on three occasions in the Charity Shield only to see the captain lose it shortly afterwards. One suspects he won’t keep his counsel on this sort of thing for long.
In actual fact, United were not in terrible shape at the end of the Van Gaal era. The defence is superbly well-drilled and had the joint best record in the league last year. In David de Gea, one of the world’s best goalkeepers has come of age.
Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford are both supremely talented and, fingers crossed, have the temperament that men such as Adnan Januzaj have lacked. Many fans hope that Juan Mata stays around, he has been a good player for United, but it would not be a tragedy if Jose moved him on.
Manchester City and Tottenham have visibly improved over the summer and Liverpool, with fewer cup commitments, will all challenge strongly this season. Chelsea fans can only been impressed with what they have seen of Antonio Conte and Arsene Wenger may well have some bullets left in the chamber.
This will be an incredibly competitive league campaign in England, and this is before mention is even made of the champions Leicester, who have the pieces of the puzzle required to make an impact again.
Jose is clear about this though, United want the title. The purchase of Paul Pogba is also a massive statement of intent. It will be interesting to see what role the Europa League plays in all this.
Mauricio Pochettino seemed convinced it was a hindrance to a title challenge last year when he sent out a weakened team against Borussia Dortmund. It is hard to see Jose happily conceding ground to Pep’s Manchester City for Europe’s secondary competition either.
The defining moments of this campaign may come, therefore, on the road and from the second string this term. United are prioritising the league title. And that is music to the ears of most United fans.
Bring it on.
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