Right. Top Fives, eh? A list of good things relating to Manchester United. Are there good things relating to Manchester United any more? Have we all descended into a pit of ennui, Moyesian incompetence and Van Gaal-esque boredom from which we shall never recover? Do we really just have to make every edition of the TOP FIVE into TOP FIVE REASONS FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THAT IS GOOD AND HOLY TO AT LEAST CONSIDER THE POSSIBILITY OF DROPPING WAYNE ROONEY until it eventually happens?
The temptation at this point is to retreat into nostalgia. The mental images of Fergie standing on the touchline, fist raised above a cocked elbow in triumph comes flooding back. But we can’t keep doing this every time it gets bad. I mean, we can, and I don’t know about you but I’ve thought about David Beckham freekicks a lot in the last couple of weeks, but for now we’re going to drop into the depths of our reserves of optimism and find some reasons to be cheerful about United in September 2016. Without further ado, delivered slightly in the spirit of hope rather than expectation: The TOP FIVE reasons things are actually not that bad. Yet.
One: Jose Mourinho will actually drop Wayne Rooney
Okay, to the members of the Wayne Rooney defence force who will inevitably seize upon this as proof that United fans are a bunch of ungrateful so-and-sos who blame everything on Rooney and ignore the faults of all the other players – this is not that. There are plenty of problems in United’s first XI at the moment – particularly at centre-back, certainly in terms of the balance of the attack. Dropping Rooney will obviously, self-evidently, not fix all United’s problems in one fell swoop.
But it will help. Maybe not immediately, but eventually, a team can be built around talent that will not be as inconsistent, will not allow play to break down around him so often, will not be living off his reputation and (still absolutely phenomenal) workrate. Watford made it all so abundantly clear. He doesn’t need to be binned off forever, he still has plenty to offer in bursts, he still has moments of magic in his boots, but he simply cannot be the fulcrum of United’s attack. It’s been three years of declining form. Fergie was absolutely right to move him into a less pivotal role in the squad, and it’s been a huge mistake to undo that foresighted move.
It seems impossible to imagine that Mourinho won’t get it, and things will get better in a post-Rooney world. At that point we can get on with being grateful for what he has done, rather than fed up with what’s he’s doing.
Two: It’s early days
Listen, admittedly Pep Guardiola appears to have got City playing like peak Barca in the space of about three weeks but it’s early days. Jose’s navigating through choppier waters than Pep, and does not have the same kind of rigorous vision of how the game should be played. For now that’s a problem, but in the medium term he should most definitely have it in him to build a winning team. He’s done it over and over again.
Three: Paul Pogba
Paul Pogba’s brilliance has barely had a chance to come to the surface. But when Mourinho gets the balance right around him (which will absolutely mean dropping Rooney), then the young Frenchman will be an enormous part of any success United go on to enjoy. Perhaps some of his personal performances have been a little below par so far, but he’s adjusting to new circumstances. At the beginning of last season when Andrea Pirlo and Arturo Vidal had left Juventus Pogba struggled, trying to do too much, trying to carry too much of the team’s burden on his shoulders. Eventually, though, Juve’s management switched things up, giving Pogba more company in the centre of the park and he absolutely shone as they overcame a difficult start to romp the league. We might not do that, but there is much, much more to come from United’s record signing.
Four: Marcus Rashford
Whatever else happens, we’ve got Marcus Rashford so things can never be all bad.
Five: Mourinho in general
The possibility does exist that his time has passed. The last few years have been a lot rougher than the years which preceded them, but he is still Jose Mourinho. He still carries a level of charisma which is impossible to ignore. He hasn’t gone full beard and tracksuit at the first sign of trouble, which is heartening. And when he arrived he clearly gave the club an enormous lift, something which was very evident back in the heady long summer evenings of August.
As this is written, there are lots of newspaper stories of discontent in the dressing room doing the rounds. While it did not work out this way at Chelsea during his second spell there, here there would seem to be a chance for Mourinho to impose himself on the club, getting rid of those people not “in the boat” as he might put it. There needs to be a clearer footballing identity developed on the pitch and apparently a more united (and United) dressing room off the pitch. Unless he really has peaked, Mourinho would seem to be a more than adequate choice to impose both of those. There is a good squad here, with a few problems. There is a good manager here, with a few problems. Ironing out those issues should be possible. Here’s to next month’s TOP FIVE being more upbeat.