At last! Finally, we’ve done it. The day the naysayers said would never arrive has arrived. Hours upon hours of careful planning, hard work behind the scenes and some inspiring moments of individual brilliance has paid dividends. No, I’m not talking about Red News reaching its 30th anniversary, I’m talking about us no longer being 6th. Win? 6th. 20 games unbeaten? 6th. Draw? 6th. Get beat? 6th. Not any more. Now we’re 5th. Bask in the glory, my friends – this day has been a long time coming.
It’s been a crazy busy last few weeks with games arriving so fast that it’s all passing by in something of a blur. The schedule gets even more congested from here on in with 9 (nine!) games currently scheduled during April. It’s reassuring to note Chris Smalling has allayed concerns about players suffering needless injuries by taking out Phil Jones in England training. At least now there’s less risk of anyone else picking up accidental knocks if Jones is watching from the sidelines on crutches.
Last month also saw us win a trophy and delightfully, cause the ABU nation to suffer a collective seizure by doing so virtue of a wrongly disallowed goal. Although this happened in the first half and Southampton only had an hour to come back from this gargantuan injustice, from that moment on the script was already written. Now I was genuinely perplexed as to why it shouldn’t be offside when there was someone clearly stood 3 yards offside, but apparently they changed the rules about 5 years ago so that you’re only off if the ball is played directly to you. Whaaat? Well I never got that memo, did I? Anyway, suck it up Craig David, Matthew Le Tissier and Jim Bergerac.
Zip up your Fjallraven, jump in the Volvo, slap on some Roxette and head to Ashton IKEA… it looks like we could be going to Sweden! Now Europa League participation normally holds about as much credibility as a David Moyes motivational speech, but it suddenly looks quite appealing now a potential trip to Stockholm is on the horizon. The only problem is I think I’ve only got 1 credit due to being a perpetually skint, semi-retired part-timer. 10,000 tickets is a minuscule allocation for a European final, so the application has gone in for Anderlecht as it will for the semi should we get there. Why oh why didn’t I apply for St Etienne? That’s gonna come back to haunt me, that one.
If we do make it to the final, then it’ll make a fitting finale to Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s stint in a United shirt… and may help persuade him to curb his nomadic predisposition and give us another year. Admittedly, I was sceptical upon his arrival but he’s been an absolute godsend in a season where we’ve struggled to score goals. He’s been United’s top player this season, impressing as a leader and instilling a bit of arrogance and swagger back into a squad that was devoid of personalities prior to his arrival. No, Jesse… I’m afraid sticking your tongue out and practising elaborate goal celebrations doesn’t make you a personality, it just makes you look a dickhead.
If you weren’t an Ibrasceptic previously, then you are probably one of those incredibly smug Zlataphiles who have spent the last 6 months telling everyone, “I told you so.” Congratulations, give yourself a pat on the back. The thing is, when the rest of us were saying, “not good enough” a few years ago, it was with good reason. United had Rooney, Tevez and Ronaldo terrorising all of Europe back then, and I’d argue Zlatan wasn’t at their level. He’s only proved himself as a stopgap signing in a vastly inferior set up years later. A harsh assessment given his stellar contribution this season, but we still desperately need to find the player who’ll take us above and beyond where we are at right now.
One hoped that Zlatan’s arrival would curb us of our tendency to struggle at home against packed defences, but it remains this team’s Archilles’ heel. Our overall record this season is decent, with only 3 league defeats all season, but this is pockmarked by rage-inducing home draws when facing utter dross. Stoke, Burnley, West Ham, Hull, Bournemouth recently – each should have been routine home victories. Those 10 dropped points would have had us safely ensconced in the top four now, rather than still sweating on CL qualification.
There was a confirmed departure this month as Bastian Schweinsteiger finally admitted defeat with his saintly charm offensive and packed his bags for the MLS. What a strange character he was. I don’t wish to sound all Brexit but I expect more Teutonic arrogance from my German sporting icons than you ever got with Basti. When Mourinho told him it was over I would have had more respect for him if he’d flounced back to Bavaria rather than forlornly hanging around Carrington helping to put the cones out. I know he was only being professional and he probably is a bloody nice bloke, but I just found it all a bit false.
Finally, huge thanks to AS Monaco for knocking City out of the European Cup and ending the possibility of them ever winning it for at least another 12 months. I’m aware that getting past Bayern, Barca and Real was going to be a very tall order indeed, but those recent-ish Liverpool and Chelsea victories have taught us that it’s very possible for the underdog to scrape through and claim an unlikely triumph. Although we can no longer celebrate their trophyless anniversary each 28th February, at least we still have this little nugget to cling onto until the true football order is restored in Manchester.
Copyright Red News – April 2017