A Moment to Bask in the Swagger

I’d like to recall a moment back in the 1994-95 Premiership season.  It involves an Ipswich Town whose shirt sponsor “Fisons”, was a bit more apt than they’d have liked.

I don’t recall who, where or why they were playing.  I only recall that it was the game in which the Tractor Boys’ record signing from South America, Adrian Paz, bagged his first and only goal for the club.

Well that and the reaction of the announcer.

I’m pretty sure that it was Jonathan Pearce but that might be my brain’s default response to the search terms “football commentator” and “overly excitable berk”.
In any case, my hazy recollection of the call is that it went a bit like this:

ADRIAN PAZ!! THE FIRST OF MANY!! NUMBER 23!! HOW CLOSE WILL HE GET TO THAT TALLY THIS SEASON???

Given that Ipswich were calamitous all season, receiving a 9-0 drubbing from Man United en route to a relegation that had felt inevitable since mid-July, it says something that Paz’s disastrous stint and that gloriously non-prophetic call stood out.

It’s also an influence on why I’m often hesitant to make grand proclamations before the fact.

Therefore, I am electing to enjoy the giddiness brought about by the early days of Man United’s Mourinho era, for what it is.  It could all turn to a bag of Fisons (other manures are available) but so far it’s been fun, so I’ll grab that with both hands.

It isn’t perfect. There’s room for improvement but there have been sublime moments remiscent of the Fergie days.

Against Southampton, when Rooney’s arrowed cross was met by the head of piston-necked Zlatan Ibrahimovic, it was a thing of beauty.

The ball covered more distance in that one header than Steven Gerrard does in some Galaxy games.  As it careened into the net with a force no header has any business delivering, Zlatan pulled away in celebration. Arms out to the side, an easy smile and an aura of “well yeah…I’m Zlatan”, it was the 34 year old’s third goal in three competitive fixtures.  Later in the game, he’d add a fourth.

The star of the show though, was returning debutante Paul Pogba.  Despite a calamitous giveaway on his first touch back in a United shirt, he barely put a foot wrong after that.  Covering every blade of grass, he seemed to just exert his will over proceedings.

His touch was exemplary throughout.  While he did weave a couple of tricks into his performance, it was the simpler stuff that got me salivating.  I say “simpler” because that’s how he made it look.  As challenges flew in, he would calmly knock the ball to one side, stepping over flailing legs with a demeanor more akin to a man stepping over a small puddle.  Occasionally, he would fend off a couple of challenges at a time in this manner.  Frequently, whether he was evading a tackle, beating a player, or even winning the ball, he showed an uncanny awareness of precisely how to put the ball where he wanted it and making flawless decisions about where that placement ought to be.

He showed poise, vision, defensive awareness and even came out on top of several aerial duels. All that was left wanting was a goal but it was a near-immaculate performance.

On our other new arrivals, Henrikh Mkhitaryan has shown promise, with a some decent touches, while Eric Bailly has performed capably in defence.

The announcers and pundits are already in hot competition to establish an exotic French pronunciation of “Bailly”.  By-Lee and Byeeee, seem to be the early favourites. Honestly lads, you spent two years pronouncing the G in “Van Gaal”.  Oh and let’s not forget the plethora of takes on how much emphasis to put on the N in “Thierry Henry” or competing theories on how guttural the “Hen-” should be.

I’m not buying into your linguistic pretensions.  I’ll await Mr Bailly’s input before going full “Moira Stewart” (that woman could pronounce Benjamin Netanyahu’s name better than his own mother) on it.

But I digress.

These first few performances have been highly encouraging.  Even pseudo-parriah, Marouane Fellaini has looked good.  In fairness to the guy, it’s not the first time he’s had a decent bunch of games.  He clearly has a lot of determination locked into that large frame and he put in some important shifts at the back end of Louis Van Gaal’s first season.

The infancy of Jose’s reign has seen him deployed as a nuisance-maker and disruptor off the ball and tidily sticking to the basics on it.  Applause also for the Orphan Annie homage.  I feel that if he ever lost the afro, we’d lose a bit of Fellaini with it.  Dying it ginger is a nice way of freshening it up.  I’m assuming he’s not acting as a surrogate for Richard Simmon’s hair plugs.

I should also probably note that for all of our skepticism, the Belgian has found his way into the plans of three consecutive United managers.

Whether the big guy is to be a fixture in Mourinho’s first XIs is yet to be seen.  I’m guessing he’ll be more a rotation option, especially with Schneiderlin and Herrera waiting in the wings.

Luke Shaw – if he can remain fit – will (to use a shameless cliche) be like a new signing.  So much of what little went right last term, disappeared with Shaw’s horrific injury.  He’s looking like he hasn’t missed a beat.

I’m hoping for more of the same this season from Anthony Martial.  The play of the French starlet was a rare highlight in a dour 2015-16.  He’s shown some of the same spark so far, though he looked a little ticked-off with himself for not making better of a couple of moments against Southampton.

Something I think I’m really going to enjoy though, are the dual egos of Jose and Zlatan.  Something grander than a pair of arrogant douchebags, they spark press conferences with knowing platitudes to themselves.  They know the media, they know their reputations and while the self-assurance may be real, you know that they deliver their soundbites with an ingenious sense of mischief.

If as expected, De Gea stays, this will wrap up an excellent transfer window for Man United. If we’re not only doing what it takes to wrest one of the game’s rising stars from Juventus but also warding off the longstanding attentions of a lurking Real Madrid, it’s a tremendous statement that we’re prepared to use our own commercial and financial muscle as tools for greater success.

A key outcome of this entertaining start for me, is the indication of how Jose Mourinho is going to run this team.  Upon his arrival, some lamented a reputation of pragmatic strategies, coining his own “parking the bus” term.

Firstly, wiping your eyelids with a Dremel (other inappropriate facial-cleansing equipment is available) would be easier on the eyes than some of the stuff we played under both LVG and David Moyes.

Secondly, whereas JM is no protagonist of cavalier football, he’s also not one to stifle creativity, so long as it happens within the framework of his conservative game-plan.  As long as it results in an end product, a lapse in work-rate will always be punished sooner and harder than a bit of flash here and there.

LVG on the other hand, seemed insistent that the team only deviate from the five yard, sideways pass in times of extreme need.

Moyes pretty much sat at his first MUFC presser, eyes wide and terrified, bottom lip trembling, a collection of mint-in-box iPads clutched to his test like a safety blanket, as he proclaimed to the world [something like] “I’m used to knowing my first XI!!! I haven’t tried other things!!!!”.  Hence, we played a season like we were being coached by Tony Pulis’s less tactically savvy and infinitely more tedious cousin.

Also, Real Madrid twice fired Fabio Capello for winning ugly, while Mourinho lasted three years.  United have always been at their best as a counterattacking side.

And in any case, is there anything in football more aesthetically pleasing than the sight of your team raising a title at the end of the season?

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