Aaaaaaand we’re back! 14 weeks on from the season of Moyes-inspired decline and it’s all beginning to seem like a distant memory. New manager, new players, new kit, new shirt sponsors, new ‘official global food partners’… it’s all been happening. Apologies now readers, if this column seems less doom-laden than normal – I’m currently suffering from a mild case of pre-season optimism. The thought of rousing myself from my summer stupor for another 9 months of football and all the nonsense that comes with it actually feels quite appealing for once. I’m sure it will pass, but it’s gaylordery all the way at present.
The root cause of this affliction, I’m certain, is Louis Van Gaal. Whereas David Moyes put on his shiniest suit and shuffled apologetically into Carrington last July; LVG strode in sporting an eye catching socks n’ flip-flops combo whilst barking instructions and dishing out high fives to the laundry staff and tea lady. Straight away, he has the air of a man born for the United gig. He might have the look of a sex tourist, but he sounds like a man with a plan. I’m smitten already.
You only needed to take a cursory glance at any of the pre-season fixtures (which I did, sod staying up for the duration), to see the instant effect on the team. Without overstating things at this early stage, for a group that looked so completely devoid of ideas a few months ago, there now appears to be a renewed confidence and swagger in place. Whereas players appeared weighed down under the burden of Moyes’ stilted approach, Van Gaal has already roused those lesser-spotted tenets of expression and creativity. United (whisper it) are beginning to look like a football team again, and a pretty decent one too. Even Ashley Young is playing well.
The feelgood, sunshine vibes of present began even before Van Gaal’s appointment in fairness. I don’t want to spend any more time bitching about Moyes, but life genuinely did begin to get a whole lot better at the precise moment his departure was confirmed. Within days of his sacking, some marketing imbecile at Paddy Power came up with the banterrific idea of installing a mocking statue of him outside Anfield – affording all their OOT’ers a hilarious photo opportunity prior to their match v’s Chelsea. You remember that game, surely? It was the anointed day of usurpation. They had the t-shirts printed and everything, bless them.
Unfortunately for the scousers, the football gods took one look at this development and shockingly, unexpectedly… deliciously decided to cancel their coronation. 2013/14 was grim viewing for the most part, but that Steven Gerrard mis-controlled pass has to go down as one of the most satisfying conclusions to a season in the modern era. Within the space of 5 seconds, Gerrard handed United fans a tolerable summer and Demba Ba an honorary doctorship in scousebusting – his place at the top table alongside Michael Thomas and Norman Whiteside guaranteed for life. City won the league, granted – but most reds were too busy celebrating Liverpool’s (ahem) slip to notice. Schadenfreude – it’s not big and it’s not clever, but it’s an utterly wonderful thing.
Whilst the players and staff have been getting acquainted with Van Gaal and his methods, the man himself has been receiving a fast-tracked induction into how United operate too. This summer, as per usual, we’ve been doing an awful lot of looking at main transfer targets though actual completed business (scarf shots) remain very thin on the ground. Despite rolling with an apparently ‘unlimited’ budget, as of the 2nd week in August, United have recruited fewer players than any other Premier League club. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose… as Eric might say.
In 2009 it was Benzema, 2010 was Ozil, 2011 Sneijder, 2012 Hazard, 2013 Thiago… no summer would be complete these days without a long, drawn out, ultimately unrequited transfer saga. In case you weren’t aware of it, 2014’s chief object of desire is Arturo Vidal, the Chilean playmaker who comes with suspect tattoos and an even more suspect knee – a snip at Juventus’ reported asking price of £47M.
You might pay little attention to any of this of course, preferring instead to get on with your life, devoting time to friends, family and loved ones during the summer months. Well done, you. That doesn’t stop thousands of normally well adjusted, rational people checking twitter, speculating on forums, translating foreign language tabloids… generally working themselves into a frenzy of unhinged expectation, in a futile attempt to find anything concrete that confirms an actual real-life deal might be imminent. It’s utterly mental.
A mate of mine decided to bypass the Vidal rumour mill and instead took matters into his own hands by emailing Fernando Felicevich, the player’s agent…
My 27 year old son has asked for the new Manchester United shirt for his birthday (it’s next Thursday, 7th August). He is an XXXL size and wants Arturo Vidal on the back of the shirt (red one) so he can wear it when he goes to the contact centre to see his 15 year old son. Times are hard here in the UK at present so I cannot afford the full name, so I was thinking just ‘Vidal’ and number ‘7’. Could you tell me whether Arturo is going to sign for Manchester United and if so, will be be before or after 7th August?
I know you are busy so a simple reply such as ‘yes’ or ‘no’ will be enough.
Thank you for your help. If Arturo has a free shirt as well that would be awesome.
Yours, Mr S***** F****
Amazingly, this gibberish was actually read and replied to within a few hours.
Thanks for your time. Arturo is overwhelmed by the interest of Manchester but enjoying his time in Italy. Good evening.
So there you have it. World exclusive: Vidal’s not coming… either that or Felicevich is bluffing. Why on earth would a reputable agent (c/w hotmail account, no less) reveal the truth to some random crank via email, after all? You genuinely can’t believe a word that clubs, agents or the players themselves are saying in public because no party will ever risk revealing their hand until the very last moment. Routine denials are all part of the dance, which is why people end up giving credence to @agent69itk (a 15 year old kid from Milton Keynes, probably) or any other twitter-based oddball who’s on hand to provide a steady stream of inane ‘updates’ from their impeccably placed ‘sources’.
It doesn’t take a genius to work out more players will ultimately arrive this summer. This consequences of that not happening don’t really bear thinking about. Despite Vidic, Ferdinand and Evra all being on their last legs, all three departing at once is a huge loss and we look desperately short of defensive cover – especially given the injury record of the first choice back 4 (or indeed 3) as things stand. Woodward will either have to sort it or face the consequences – I can’t see Big Louis being very understanding should there be any repeat of last year’s fiasco.
Vidal or no Vidal, it’s good to be back. Bring on United…
Copyright Red News – August 2014