By Richard Cann
Hello, United fans of the internet. The Week at United returns, which will no doubt be a delight for the three men and a dog who read it every Monday.
It felt appropriate to have a few weeks off to bask in the glory of the Europa League win and seek some treatment for the blood pressure issues the semi-final and, ultimately, the final triggered. Games like that, of that importance, are never fun, particularly with a place in the Champions League at stake, and the presence of Christopher Smalling in the defence didn’t help ease the tension. But Christopher played well, in what will possibly be his last hurrah at the club before a deadline day transfer to West Bromwich Albion for a nominal fee. He will leave a unique legacy, of being the only footballer at Manchester United in the Premier League era who is afraid of having possession of a football. We laugh at him, but Chris is most definitely winning at life, earning a packet playing for a club which should be beyond his abilities, winning the Premier League, FA Cup, League Cup and UEFA Cup and going home to a wife who is most definitely a bonafide rocket. For all of those things, I salute thee, Christopher.
Should he leave, his replacement is already at the club in the shape of new signing Victor Lindelof. I’d like to provide you with in depth analysis of his strengths and weaknesses, but in all honesty I’ve seen him play three times in my whole life, on occasions when I was probably distracted, arguing on Twitter about immigration with Chaz, the racist, from Canvey Island. So the extent of my analysis of the Swede is based entirely on trawling the social media photos of his girlfriend Maja Nilsson, who remarkably appears to be even more of a rocket than Sam Cooke. My investigations provided me with limited information, but I did learn that Lindelof is incapable of carrying out simple everyday tasks in the home and that Nilsson gets pissed a lot at games her other half is playing in. What a gal. So welcome, Victor. If you’re half as good as Eric Bailly then we’re going to have some goal-repelling fun next season.
Not everyone was happy to see the 22 year old arrive, however, particularly everyone’s favourite Brexiteer Ray Wilkins, who opined that signing the Englishman Michael Keane, who has already ‘done it’ (senior trophies – zero) should have been the choice over Johnny Foreigner, with his Portuguese titles, more international caps and Champions League experience. ‘Why don’t you go back to your own country Victor’, thought Ray. Possibly.
Of course, United’s issue for much of the last campaign wasn’t conceding goals but scoring them, and with Zlatan still recovering from his leg bending the wrong way and now being out of contract, we needed a new centre forward. Initially it looked like that man might be the wonderful Antoine Griezmann, until Atletico’s transfer ban scuppered the whole escapade. United, in their pathetically transparent briefing stylee, group-emailed the Manc press-pack and told them to report that they’d never wanted him anyway. All a bit cringe. It appeared that the chosen alternative was Real Madrid’s Alvaro Morata, who Real Madrid valued at €90m, a figure on which they were unwilling to budge. This infuriated the internet, which felt that they were ‘taking the piss’ and instructed Ed Woodward to ‘sack it off and go for someone else’, thus supposedly scuppering Real’s move for Kylian Mbappe.
Such attitudes never fail to amuse and bemuse me. The idea that a club should value a player above what the World Wide Web considers to be a reasonable figure is akin to heresy and the prospective sellers should be taught a lesson by United’s refusal to pursue a player that that club don’t especially want to sell. Real, in case you’ve forgotten, are an independently wealthy enterprise with an enormous turnover and other assets, such as James Rodriguez, they are more willing to sell. Zinedine Zidane is widely believed to highly rate Morata and wants to keep him and Florentino Perez obviously feels that a sale is only worth it at an inflated figure. But yeah, United sure showed them by not signing said player. In yo face. The only loser turned out to be Morata, desperate for the now aborted move and left in limbo. A London club may suddenly require his services.
Why the change of plan? Because behind the scenes Ed Woodward was beavering away on another deal, a transfer which would provide us with many LOLS. I must admit, I love Romelu Lukaku and was disappointed that it seemed to be a fait accompli that he would secure his dream move back to his boyhood club (and former employer) Chelsea. But there was a twist, an aligning of the planets. Antonio Conte’s superiors had been intransigent, trying to get the Belgian at a discount and needing to offload Diego Costa first. That task was made increasingly difficult by Conte dumb-texting Costa that he was sacking him off, causing the feisty faux-Spaniard to kick off and leak the communication to the world and his wife. Chelsea’s negotiating hand evaporated, as the player’s anger and desire to only move to Atletico put his employers in a tough spot. Things were further complicated by the fact that after the John Stones saga last summer, Everton hate Abramovich’s mob with the fire of a thousand suns and would have preferred to negotiate with Ming the fucking Merciless than the mysterious Marina Granovskaia.
Enter stage left Lukaku and best buddy Paul Pogba, holidaying and partying together in LA. Pogba no doubt made use of this time to tell his friend all about the bromances at United, of Dave who saves (again unavailable to Real Madrid – 🖕🏻), and the cuddly duo of Ander and Juan. Together, Lukaku and Pogba could double the already widespread changing room amore. Romelu was entranced. All that was left, therefore, was for the increasingly transfer-competent Ed Woodward to phone up Bill Kenwright (whose credit card once funded a day and evening on the booze for my ex-girlfriend and I and the United supporting runner-up of Any Dream Will Do and his plus one. Two years later he chucked in theatre and he and his butter-wouldn’t-melt other half went into porn, the plus one becoming Jasmine Jae, Britain’s most notable bang-bird. Odd day, that).
Everton would no doubt drive a hard bargain, but Ed had an ace up his sleeve. Or to Everton he was an ace. To United he was a truly legendary striker in rapid decline on a ridiculously generous wage. Their desperation to get rid appeared to be matched only by The Toffees’ desperation to indulge in some super-costly nostalgia. And so a deal for Lukaku was struck, one which United briefed about before the deed was done. Everton denied any agreement and Chelsea, taken totally by surprise, offered a similar amount and implied that to choose Mourinho over them was a product of money and the evil, scheming Mino Raiola, United’s de facto Director of Football and on massive commission. Poor Romelu, he of speaking six languages fame and the June claim that he would decide on his destination, not his agent, was thus hypnotised by the devious Dutchman and, under duress, signed for United.
Cue the implosion of Chelsea Twitter, who deleted all of their praise of the Belgian and the video compilations they had prepared for his arrival, suddenly suggesting that their club had never wanted him anyway and that he is hideously overrated.
Football fans can be quite a precious bunch.
Lukaku and Pogba published a short skit at their holiday super-pad, where the former tells his funtime-bro that he would see him tomorrow at training, much to the delight of the latter. United had already announced that he would be joining, adding another young player to an increasingly youthful and talented spine of the team. Lukaku is not the world’s finest technician, but Reds have watched Wayne Rooney controlling the ball into touch for several years. What he will bring, however, is some of what the club’s record goalscorer offered in his prime, namely pace, power and an appetite for goals. His consistency will have to improve and his game will need to become more dynamic, but at 24 he has plenty of time to learn and should offer the forward movement that was Zlatan’s most glaring weakness. He will net plenty, but unlike last season his supporting cast need to post some #numbers too. United have been linked with Ivan Perisic and James Rodriguez, vastly differing players but who would both bring a degree of added creativity and guile. A deep lying midfielder is also required, now unlikely to be Chelsea’s Nemanja Matic due to the Blues’ current levels of pissed-off that another club might pursue a key target better than they. Eric Dier has been touted as one alternative, whilst there has been a suggestion that United might heist another Chelsea deal, for Monaco’s Bakayoko. I’m not entirely sold on the player, but the banter would be EPIC.
I should devote some copy to the departing Wayne Rooney, a transfer as emotionally conflicting as any I can recall. Rooney has been in decline for four to five years and praise must be lavished upon Jose Mourinho for fronting up and dropping the woeful, clapped-out icon after an astonishingly hideous performance in the defeat at Watford. In the context of his abilities and contribution in the present his exit is a delight, a relief for fans and the club’s accountants. But taking his career as a whole it is a sad day, the end of thirteen years at United during which he provided some truly epic contributions, winning every trophy available and providing me with some of the greatest footballing memories of my life. Regardless of transfer requests and flirting with the enemy, Rooney is a club legend, a phenomenon in his prime, despite his refuelling habits. His overhead kick to win the derby was a genuine Roy of the Rovers moment which epitomised his street-football style. It is just a shame that his decline manifested itself so early and ultimately the barmy five year deal, bequeathed to him by the gormless thunder-twat David Moyes, became a millstone around United’s neck. Rooney tried to reinvent himself as a midfielder, but alas he has neither the skill-set or the physical capacity to perform that role and it will be interesting to see how he is utilised by Ronald Koeman in a squad which contains better players in every one of his potential positions. As a United fan I wish him well, but on the evidence of the last year or so it is hard to see him excelling on the pitch. He may, however, be a commercial boon for the nouveau riche Toffees and offer invaluable experience in the dressing room.
And there I shall, for now, leave you. All three of you (and the dog). United now head to America for kisses and cuddles with Romelu and AgentP, and a tough pre-season schedule. Andreas Pereira is in the squad, fresh from a fine season at ultimately relegated Granada, and United fans would love for him to prove his immediate worth to Mourinho. Goalkeeper Joel Pereira is amongst the younger names who travel, fresh from signing a new deal at the club after rumours that he may leave for his native Portugal. United still have significant work to do in what has already been an interesting transfer window, but Mourinho can call off his attack-Castles for now as his squad begins to take shape. The Portuguese values working with new players in pre-season and if new arrivals do not materialise in good time then the manager’s sycophantic rent-a-cheerleader will no doubt reappear to put pressure on cuddly Ed. There is, however, still plenty of time left in this window, and the Executive Vice-President has already worked some impressive magic snagging Lukaku, (even if his briefing is still impressively shit).