"Re"United: A Video Reconciliation with the Past
By Nick Chafey
After United’s disposal of Southhampton Friday night I found myself somewhat conflicted. Let me go on to explain.
It has been almost 12 years since I found myself interested in Manchester United. That last squad included the legendary Red Devil members like Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes, David Beckham, Ruud Van Niestlerooy and my personal favorite, the Irish enforcer, Roy Keane, known as “Schizo” by his ex teammates because of his uncontrollable Irish rage.
Those players, with the exception of Keane, were exceptionally technical players. Beckham, my favorite player at the time was the technical master craftsman, a free kick specialist known for his exceptional service but also a pivotal player who would rise up on the big occasion and deliver a spectacular moment.
Keane or Keano would inspire me by his stoic attitude and brute like image. He would thrive in the moments of the match when physical or verbal conflict was unavoidable. Known for his recklessness, Roy was also the drive/engine of that squad and his energy was worth the price in Red Cards throughout his United career. Anybody who followed United during that era remembers the famous Highbury tunnel incident in 2005 after a spat with Arsenal’s Patrick Vieira, a player he hated with absolute fervor.
So, when United sold off David Beckham, Roy Keane and Van Niestlerooy; and players like Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs fell out of favor for United, I also lost interest in United’s affairs and matches. More importantly though, it was Sir Alex’s choice of replacements like Cristiano Ronaldo, Wayne Rooney, Michael Carrick, Robin Van Persie and Rafael that really pushed away my interest in United. I began to despise the club and all of their accolades they would go on to earn.
My distaste for the Manchester club would go on for a lengthy amount of time. From 2005 onwards, United would go on to become very successful. Lead by the ego of Cristiano Ronaldo they would capture numerous Premier League titles and go on to become European Champions after beating my beloved Chelsea in the Moscow Final on penalties after John Terry infamously slipped on the winning penalty, racking his shot off the woodwork. United would then capitalize on the error and be crowned champions of Europe marking the pinnacle of my enmity for the club.
In 2013 the Ferguson era concluded, Sir Alex in his 26 year stint at United garnered 38 trophies including lifting the premier league trophy a record 13 times and being crowned European Champions twice. David Moyes and Louis Van Gaal would follow in the shadow of Sir Alex but neither of the pair could entertain the Old Trafford faithful. They both would eventually find the back door out of Manchester. All the while, there was a Portuguese super boss laying in wait.
The man, known as the Special One by the English Media had always been linked with the United job. It was José’s stature and reputation that would make him the ideal replacement for Sir Alex at Old Trafford, at-least in the eyes of the media. When the time came, it was to the media’s disbelief that David Moyes and not Mourinho would be the heir to the throne in Manchester. Mourinho himself would go on to express his personal disappointment and agonizing pain when the Manchester Club rejected him. It would be another 3 years before José would be linked with the United job and there was no doubt this time who would take the job, it would be The Special One.
It would be with José’s appointment that I found myself becoming quite interested in what United was constructing for the upcoming season. Jose would be linked with bringing in Zlatan Ibrahimovic, the 34-year-old Swedish superstar known for his audacious goals and lucrative ego. Ibrahimovic’s only critics were the ones in English Football who said that he would struggle with the physicality of the English Game. Zlatan, who succeeded everywhere in Europe had one last challenge, success in England. His arrival to the Premier League was one of England’s most anticipated and it will be examined with a close eye throughout the season. I will mention though that the English are some of the most naive people when it comes to Football, how can they be critical of the man who scored 4 times against the English in 2014 World Cup Qualifying? Did they forget how he scored the 4th goal? I know the commentator didn’t.
Now that Mourinho and Zlatan have found their way in the United squad how else could it get any more interesting? Well, with a week to go before the onset of the season they broke a record. United retained Paul Pogba, a promising youngster they sold off years ago in which now, they’ve had to pay 89 million euros to bring him back to Manchester, making Pogba the world’s most expensive footballer. United over the course of 3 months have completely revamped the club and its identity across the world. I watched United win the Community Shield against Leicester and viewed their opening match in the Premier League. In both of those matches I watched Ibrahimovic score clinical goals in that iconic center forward role José absolutely cherishes. These were the same roles fulfilled by Didier Drogba, Diego Costa and Diego Milito when Mourinho was managing them at their respective clubs. The other vital role in a Mourinho starting XI is the anchor in midfield. Cue in Paul Pogba, the world’s most expensive footballer. He didn’t feature in United’s season opener because of a suspension but this last Friday night he debuted in the Manchester United starting line up. In that match against Southhampton he made a lasting impression on me. That impression and Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s two goal performance is where I now stand conflicted.
Zlatan has scored 4 goals in the 3 games he has featured for United and it has looked relatively elementary so far for the Swede but it was Pogba’s impression that gripped me Friday night, he revolutionized my relationship with United. Pogba represents a long-lost type of midfielder that is a rarity in modern football. The true box-to-box midfielder “The destroyer” this is the player who is fluent in attack but defiant in defense, capable of covering large amounts of the pitch in a 90-minute match. When I watched Pogba’s debut he reminded me of a Patrick Viera, a similar box-to-box midfield superstar that was so vital for the success of Arsenal during the 2000s. Vieira would make those late runs into the box from deep lying positions contributing to some crucial goals throughout his Arsenal Career. Pogba like Vieira, covered over 11km Friday night, the necessary distance to dominate a modern football match at the top professional level.
When I look at this United team, it has a new identity, one that is nostalgic, reminding me of the way the Premier League was played during my childhood with power and attrition. There also is a modern appearance to this United side. They play with the central striker and appear to be deadly on the break with vicious pace and finishing that is ruthlessly keen. This new United side is not one of the recent past, it is a new squad, modified with class personnel that I can admire. It is Manchester United I can genuinely watch without leaving a bitter after-taste in my mouth once the final whistle has blown. I can’t wait to watch this team grow and mature throughout the year, obviously not as much as my beloved Chelsea.
Here’s what we have to leave you with from Pogba’s Manchester United debut, pure class from the worlds most expensive footballer.