What a difference a year makes. 360 days ago I sat in my living room, anxiously awaiting United’s preseason game against AIK Göteborg. We had previously recorded losses against Singha XI; a selection of stars from the Thai league and against Yokohama F. Marinos.
Wayne Rooney had left the tour amid rumours of his departure while Adnan Januzaj (and – to some extent – Jesse Lingard) was the only bright spark in a otherwise not very encouraging preseason tour of Eastern Asia and Australia. So there I sat, waiting for United’s game against Göteborg to start and hoping against hope that David Moyes wouldn’t have to make any more excuses and indicate that “at this stage it was all about fitness.”
Things have gotten much clearer now the season (and the World Cup) is over.
Looking back I should have known something was wrong with the club I so dearly loved. I kept telling myself that this was how every fan felt when their club changed manager. (Me not being old enough to have experienced United not under the helm of Sir Alex Ferguson).
I told myself that these doubts were normal, that it was normal to listen to interviews with the new manager trying to agree with him but at the same time wanting to shake him and shout into his face that this was a much, much bigger task than he had anticipated and that he had to wake up and realise that it wasn’t “all” about fitness.
Yes it was about fitness. But at Manchester United fitness can only ever be 49% of the whole purpose. For at least 51% of whatever United do, has to be dedicated to winning. Even in preseason. The priority must to be to win. Always.
That’s why we all loved Fergie. Because his first aim was winning. Always.
David Moyes first priority was not to to lose. And with that he had already lost.
Looking back I should have known better. It didn’t feel wrong for no reason. This wasn’t good. Throughout the season I kept backing Moyes, up until the day he got the sack. For one simple reason. I don’t slate my club and anything to do with it. That’s why when looking through Tweets of mine from the past, you’ll never see me jumping on the Young and Cleverley hate trains. Not gonna happen.
As long as they’re Manchester United players they have my backing and my faith. Sure, I’ll be disappointed in them when they don’t seem interested or don’t seem to be giving their best for the club. But hating on a player purely because he “isn’t good enough for us” is wrong. I trust our manager’s and our scout’s judgements and believe in every player’s potential.
My reward is to be able to enjoy moments like against Real Madrid, when Ashley Young scored twice. I didn’t have to tweet about how the world will soon end. I was able to see a Manchester United player score twice against the current Champions League winners. And that felt good.
So there I was, watching Sweden’s then number four in the league manage to get a draw against the runaway champions of England, with Angelo Henriquez scoring his first goal for the club. Nani had been particularly bright but had to be taken off after little over half an hour due to injury. Which was a shame, right when it had seemed like we had found the next gear, we crashed again.
No, something wasn’t right, even early on.
But that’s the past, and you’ll no doubt thank me for, like Fergie always did, not dwelling on the past.
(Sadly) we all know what happened in-between that game in the “Friends-Arena” in Stockholm and now.
And then came Louis.
United fans were able to see the Dutch side, led by RvP and LvG destroy Spain and Brazil, and finish 3rd after staying unbeaten throughout the World Cup. The 3-5-2 was born. And after the 4-3-3 in 2008 and the 4-2-3-1 in 2010 it seems to have become the new first-choice formation throughout Europe.
And van Gaal has taken the World Cup mojo with him. He’s installed the 3-5-2 at United with great success.
And now you’re gonna say “Fabby, you do realise that it was just preseason, and it was only 4 games, all of them friendlies, right?!”. And of course, you’re right. But we have a manager who’s concentrating on winning again.
Where has the “at this stage it’s all about fitness”-motto gone?
My uncle (an outspoken non-United fan) once told me that if Ferguson wasn’t so successful he’d just be an arrogant twat. I was about to argue back, angry at the stab at my favourite football manager, my hero, the architect of so many happy hours delivered to me from United.
But then I realised, he was perfectly right. Ferguson was arrogant. But successful. And if you’re successful enough, arrogance is permitted. Encouraged, even, for I think arrogance helps dealing with abuse and with dry spells. Did Fergie ever look like he didn’t know what he was doing? No. He always seemed assured, and even in 2005, after the early Champions League exit, when United scored 3 goals in six games, when doubters got loud, nobody, deep down honestly thought Fergie was finished. His arrogance remained. And less than 3 years later, United won the Champions League.
A managers job in the modern game, especially at a club as big as United, includes appearing in to be in control or not. Do I think for one second that Fergie wasn’t overwhelmed at times? Or had doubts about the club and his project? No. Of course he had doubts. Probably a fair few in those 27 years. But he never let anything leak out. Never. He always seemed in control. He always gave me as a United fan the feeling that the boss of Manchester United knows what he’s doing and that the club is going in the right direction. David Moyes, from the very first moment didn’t give me that reassuring feeling. He seemed overwhelmed right from the word “go”. A Manchester United manager doesn’t make excuses. United don’t do excuses. They do results. And Louis van Gaal does results as well.
Last night in bed I thought about what my uncle would say about Louis van Gaal. I imagine it wouldn’t be too far from his analysis of Fergie. And on that note, I fell asleep.
During the World Cup, my friends kept asking me whether I thought van Gaal was the right man for United. I said yes absolutely, someone who doesn’t take shit from anyone, isn’t afraid of making big decisions and has a lot of faith in youth. “I’m sure he is the right man.” is what I told them. But with some caution, not daring to believe myself when I told myself that this felt different than last year. Because that’s what I said about David Moyes as well. “I’m sure he’s the right guy.”
So here I am, on holidays in New York City, sitting in a Starbucks on the upper East Side, grinning from ear to ear, having just watched United dispose of Real Madrid by three goals to one. The fact that opposing fans get angry when I they see “WE’RE BACK”-Tweets makes me very happy indeed. You’re obviously right to remind me that it’s “just preseason” but when rivals get nervous it’s a stonewall sign that we are in fact, back.
We have a manager who appears to know what he’s doing, a manger not afraid to make big decisions, a manager who will manage to fit Robin van Persie, Wayne Rooney and Juan Mata into one starting eleven without the latter having to play on the left.
It didn’t even take him more than a few weeks to make the players speak highly of him and tell the press how much they liked working with him. In short, it took Louis van Gaal one little preseason tour of the States to achieve everything David Moyes failed to do in all his 10 months in charge.
If you want me to say we’ll be champions, or we’ll win the double, I can’t do it. We’ll have to see how the season pans out in terms of injuries, winter transfers and luck. I can say that I’ve been impressed by United’s preseason form. Beating Italian giants, Real Madrid, and potentially Liverpool is great. Tyler Blackett has impressed me most of all the young lads, and baring in mind we’re still without Adnan Januzaj, Marouane Fellaini and Robin van Persie, the system brought in by van Gaal seems to be working well.
Ultimately, knowing that it’s preseason, and knowing that we haven’t played more than four games, I dare to say that Manchester United are, indeed back.
So I say we all sit back, enjoy the ride, put our faith and our trust into van Gaal and Giggs, stick to them after defeats and celebrate the highs even more emphatically. For there will be highs, our rivals know can already feel it. And what better feeling is there than sensing our rival’s fear?
Took us a season more than we’d have liked but I have no doubt in saying that we’ve found a proper replacement for Sir Alex Ferguson. Mark. My. Words.
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