In the Premier League’s inauguration of Friday Night Football, an all-star cast appeared in front of 75,000 expectant United fans. At the Theatre of Dreams the world’s most expensive footballer, the lead actor in his second homecoming and a wounded animal of a manager with a point to prove gracing the home dugout for the first time competitively headed the A-list.
Even that stage was child’s play for Zlatan. As our ever-increasingly popular eulogy goes, our ‘Swedish hero’ has already become just that. It takes cojones for a man to even threaten to eclipse Eric Cantona’s seemingly immortal celestial status at Old Trafford, but with four goals in three games and a palpable drive to win, Zlatan is on his way to becoming United’s latest driving force and delivering on his self-hailing ‘God of Manchester’ promise.
There has always been something aesthetically pleasing about a striker stealing a march on his marker and sending a towering header back where it came from. Wayne Rooney, whose role in the side will never cease to be scrutinised after Zlatan’s arrival, sent over a perfect cross for the latter to attack and rise above reported United target Jose Fonte to power past Fraser Forster. It was the sort of goal that United have not been capable of in recent memory. United have lacked a presence in the box aerially, besides Cristiano Ronaldo intermittently (when he didn’t need any service to find the net), and the first goal was symbolic of the new possibilities this season.
The aforementioned triumvirate showcase a new dynamic, a re-emergence, a revolution. Restoring Manchester United to familiar heights is Jose Mourinho’s ultimate objective at the helm and he knew that unleashing his stardust on such a stellar occasion was the perfect opportunity to send an emphatic message to the rest of the Premier League that United finally mean business, after three years of limpidity and stagnation.
As Zlatan, he is too good for surnames, alluded to post-match, the psychological aspect of churning out victory after victory is just as important as execution and performance on the pitch. Belief was not a word in the dictionaries of Moyes and Van Gaal, rather ‘hope’ and ‘philosophy’ epitomised their sorry spells in charge. Twelve titles in thirteen years for Zlatan, Pogba arriving off the back of four straight Serie A titles and a serial winner in Mourinho- the personality has become equally vital as the quality in United’s 16-17 recruitment drive. It feels like the old times already: The swagger, the aura, a confidence that the good times are coming back.
Pogba’s retour à la maison was welcomed overwhelmingly by the Old Trafford faithful, simply grateful that Ferguson’s biggest aberration in charge has finally been corrected. His performance got fans purring too. Los Angeles shenanigans looked completely out of this French tour de force’s system. Conceding possession and a free-kick in his first involvement back… Welcome home! That could have dented the confidence of any player, let alone having the world’s newly christened most expensive player tag weighing on his shoulders.
Pogba was visibly desperate to impress, playing around his own area, step-overs galore and more tricks than a Paul Daniels masterclass, but isn’t that exactly what United have been so distinctly bereft of in recent years? United have signed two showmen in Zlatan and Pogba- Mourinho has clearly given the duo the chance to live up to their showman billing with Pogba having creative freedom and roaming capabilities to do his thing. His lung-busting runs from the heart of midfield gave United serious counter attacking possibilities, add his Gallic grass-burner Tony Martial to the mix on the break and it simply whets the appetite.
Pogba can be indebted to his partner in the engine room for his licence to thrill. I know the following comment will be followed up by ‘well it’s only Bournemouth and Southampton’ but Marouane Fellaini has been excellent at the start of the season. You read correctly. These were games we lost last season, in this setup Fellaini has given the side extra solidity, doing the dirty work of breaking up play. Although Mourinho has been the Belgian’s puppeteer, with the afro seldom venturing over halfway, he has carried out the boss’ orders to a tee. Opposition sub-par or not, an upturn in Fellaini’s form has saved his bacon and given United’s midfield more physicality, minus those pesky elbows.
Next up for the reds is the traditional six-pointer against… Mike Phelan’s unlikely lads Hull City. Against all the odds, the beleaguered promoted side have pulled rabbits out of the hat to beat Leicester and Swansea respectively. ‘Cone man’ would love to get one over his old side, but the incentive for Mourinho’s men to go into the International break before the derby with maximum points should be too good an opportunity to waste.
I am expecting Hull to provide some testing moments, particularly from set-pieces, but our quality should see another comfortable victory. The confidence is back, I’m sure you’re all feeling it too. It is early doors in the Mourinho regime but the transformation is already taking place.
What a difference that is.