There’s an old adage oft-employed by footy fans when discussing players they deem dispensable to their club: “I’d have personally given him a lift to the airport myself.” It’s a phrase heard bandied about boozers nationwide. Whilst most vehicle owners can accommodate a quartet of passengers, if this rule is applied to every Manchester United player fans wanted to offload during the transfer window, somebody would need to get on the blower to Salford Van Hire to see how they were fixed for minibuses.
David Moyes has gone on record as stating that he isn’t partial to a January signing, prompting low expectations among Reds that the window would prove a thriving period of activity. But all along Moyes, the cheeky scamp, must have been joking – either that, or his New Year’s Resolution was to blow his previously prudent policy completely out of the water with the record signing of a Juan Mata.
Moyes must have almost felt compelled to buy in January, not only to temporarily silence his burgeoning cohort of detractors, but also to support Adnan Januzaj, on whom United have evidently been growing ever more reliant in the absence of Robin van Persie and Wayne Rooney. Moyes thus needed to think of this as his Januzary transfer window, and mercifully the manager delivered.
The Ian Hislop – Ed Woodward doppelgänger has been noted, and until the Mata coup, it was starting to appear as if United’s vice chairman didn’t have time to squander on negotiations, being indisposed filming the latest series of ‘Have I (Not) Got (Transfer) News For You.’
Now that Woodward’s finally shattered the perception that he can’t pull off a major signing, the United chief is now strutting around Old Trafford on matchday with the type of SWAG that bags the WAGS. Wavering Woodward has instantaneously morphed into Wild Woodward, splashing cash on the world football transfer scene with reckless abandon. With his partner-in-crime, Dangerous Dave – we can now dismiss his Everton moniker of Dithering Dave in toe, a depraved duo has been unleashed unto the world.
Reports indicated that Moyes had a £150-million transfer kitty at his disposal, enabling the Scot to budge on his transfer budgeting. Moyes could finally swing his spending manhood around with some clout. Furthering the analogy, instead of being hung like a budgie, as he was at Everton, he is now hung like the proverbial donkey. Well-endowed with the Glazer dowry.
Back to the real world and the Wilfried Zaha situation remains most peculiar; a baffling conundrum that bemused even the most discerning Reds. Yes, everybody has heard about the alleged trysts with Moyes’ daughter, but it was beginning to appear as if Wilfried might have also had a tickle with Moyes’ wife, such was the extent of the apparent grudge.
Following on from a promising pre-season, Zaha was so criminally underutilized that he might have well spent January in the Celebrity Big Brother house – handcuffed to Marouanne Fellaini – giving Lee Ryan a run for his money with the ladies.
Zaha’s now on loan at Cardiff City and it would be a veritable travesty if the youngster is never afforded an opportunity at United to prove whether he’s legitimately the real thing. Of all men, surely Moyes can empathise with the concept?
To further obscure the mystery, Moyes had offered supporters a solitary explanation for Zaha’s persistent absence, citing the player’s questionable commitment in training. Plenty of flair players have a reputation as poor trainers, but produce when it really matters – on a matchday. That’s all fans truly care about, not whether Wilfried puts it in during the 100-metre dash. The mind boggles that Zaha has been loaned out whilst the services of other ineffective wingers have been retained. Some of these perennial Saturday-underperformers must look like Cristiano Ronaldo on the hallowed turf at Carrington.
Fabio da Silva’s fast, furious and ultimately final cameo versus Swansea City most likely sealed his fate. He was understandably eager to impress, but his rashly-overzealous challenge only resulted in more pressure being heaped on Moyes. However, it could work to United’s advantage with Fabio now at another club in this country. This requires an imaginative leap of faith, but hypothetically, if his brother gets injured at a crucial stage of the season, when with Moyes side suffering from a spate of crocked defenders, Fabio could then come and fill in for us. Nobody can tell them apart, and United will offload the wage to boot.
Woodward is a genius. Vir-Gill guided the club through Hell; now Woodward will lead United to the Promised Land. This literary allegory would have worked so beautifully had United actually signed Dante.
Moving on, Anderson was always destined for an Italian club the moment that image circulated in 2012 of him proudly sporting a Ferrero Rocher like a bandana. Let’s be honest – that tiny gold-wrapped sphere of frivolity is the closest Ando will ever get to a Ballon d’Or.
Like the school reports of underachieving rebels, Anderson’s spell at United can be summarized by the following: “could have done better.” The annual August press release proclaiming that “this will be his year” will certainly be conspicuous by its absence come the summer.
Fans will also miss the loveable rogue in other ways. He was one of those rare players who managed to hold a dear place in the heart despite not living up to his potential. In some ways Anderson essentially became akin to a club mascot, which is fitting since he was as effective on the pitch as Fred The Red.
‘Andow’ will surely accede to his calling and open up his own chain of piquant poultry eateries! Similar to Nando’s, but much like Ando’s consistency, only occasionally tasty. And ‘Andow’ – what on earth is that all about?! It evokes the popular catchphrase of equally paunchy Homer Simpson, and thus should be spelt And’oh.
On the heels of his polemical Twitter activity – something about a frustration at lack of first team starts – rumours continued to circulate regarding Javier Hernández’ prospective departure. It would sadden Hip-Hop loving Reds immensely if Lil’p left; the goalmouth gangsta.
On the incoming front one Twitter account was set up to monitor the plethora of players reportedly linked with a move to M16. More than 50 players were counted during January alone. Arturo Vidal, Ilkay Gundogan, Chieck Tioté, Toni Kroos, Edison Cavani, and Fabio Coentrao were amongst those bruited in connection with United. It’s much easier on the old heart strings to adopt a monk-like mindset; stay stoic in the face of speculation.
Whilst engrossing, it’s a struggle to remain au fait with United’s affairs during the club’s current plight, let alone be well-versed in the world’s emerging prospects. It’s much easier to rely on YouTube snippets to assess mooted transfer targets, and sceptics might suspect that those who profess to offer an informed opinion on every single one of United’s targets is either fibbing, watching an inordinate amount of televised sport, or receiving tip-offs as to the whereabouts of United scouts.
Perhaps most perplexing amid the catalogue of surnames were those of United alumni Paul Pogba and Ravel Morrison, both recent departees of the club under circumstances that didn’t appear entirely amicable – a wage dispute and off-field indiscretions respectively.
There has subsequently been the vain hope amongst Reds that these two precocious starlets would one day find their way back to their old stomping ground, although the wounds from premature exits have barely even healed over. Pogba and Morrison in concert could address multiple glaring deficiencies at United, adding ample virility to a barren midfield that craves creativity and prowess. Or “more reason to shop for Morrison” as some might sing.
But for one player the gossip actually materialised. Perhaps, as befits a 1930s Lorca play, Mr. Woodward was lying on his luxury cashmere John Lewis mattress one night, when all of a sudden, the words of José Fernández – or any of the innumerable artists to cover “Guantanamera” – filled his ear, serving as a melodic imploration for him to act. “Juan Mata-Edward, please sign us Juan Mata-Edward, Juan Mata-Edward, just sign us Juan Mata-Edward.”
Of course, the move was not without its deliberations, and all the coquettish to-and-froing inherent to the modern day marquee transfer. About 200,000 Reds immediately followed Juan Mata on Twitter when rumours commenced, leading some to grow concerned that it was all some elaborate ploy from Mata’s social media PR team.
By no means will the signing of Mata exclusively return the club to the zenith of world football, but it’s a decent start; the catalyst for the Matamorphosis about to ensue at Old Trafford. The Matamatics proved irrelevant, as the cost didn’t mata to anyone.
Mata’s undoubtedly an absolute joy. The fact that the Spaniard isn’t particularly quick enables supporters to marvel at his majesty in slow-motion. And then of course when cheering on the club’s newest acquisition, fans can all feel very authentic by enunciating the guttural jota in Juan; an incredibly visceral intonation that is an incredibly satisfying thing to do. It’s the simple things, after all.
Parallels between Juan and Paul Scholes seem premature at this juncture, but there are certainly similarities. Using the renowned SatNav analogy, Scholes was a Garmin, Mata a TomTom, but with time and room to ascend up the spectrum of premium midfield GPS devices.
Like a cognitive reflex reaction, the Mata-based wordplay was rife amongst aspiring wordsmiths and budding songsmiths alike on Twitter, furiously endeavouring to out-pun each other at every available opportunity. What self-respecting pun artiste could resist getting involved?
Lyricists attempted to out-cheese each other – Chesney Hawkes’ “The Juan and Only”/Grease “You’re the Juan that I want” – or out-Manc each other – The Charlatans’ “The only Juan I know”/The Stone Roses’ “This is the Juan”. It’ll be interesting to see how this unfolds.
Mata won’t be overly concerned with how the Old Trafford faithful decide to serenade him though. The guy positively oozes class, both on and off the pitch, and will progressively prove impactful with pitch-time. The player’s welcoming press conference was a graceful PR masterclass. Mata has read the United manifesto in its entirety, and he evidently gets it. Similarly admirable was Mata’s refusal to budge when probed by relentless reporters to provide them with a polemical soundbite regarding his former employers.
Juan will assimilate nicely in Manchester. He’ll immediately feel right at home upon paying his first visit to Deansgate’s El Rincon de Rafa, where he can sample classic tapas such as Boquerooneys. The midfielder will also like the fact that there are mainstream clothing retailers up North. The day his pal signed, David De Gea took to Twitter to offer a gentle dig at his compatriot’s sartorial selection. Does Juan perhaps shop at Mata(lan)?
It’s been amply discussed that Mata occupies a berth in which United possesses an extensive number of options: Rooney, Shinji Kagawa, Fellaini et al. But Mata’s addition may mean that the side does not require the complete overhaul as some have intimated. Another three players would likely suffice – a left-back, centre-back and central midfielder, perhaps, in addition to the recalled Zaha and Nick Powell in the summer.
Then there’s always ‘number seven’ Bébé, whose recent volley was actually more impressive than Scholes’ similar strike versus Aston Villa back in 2006, given that the winger had to backtrack and adjust his body position before striking the ball.
Moyes must be aware of the areas that need addressing. The manager’s public proclamations on the heels of a disappointing defeat to Stoke City were surely displays of defiance, belying his true sentiments. After all, managers seldom express their dismay openly, and it would certainly be disconcerting if the manager actually believed that his side had played well and created plenty.
The Stoke defeat was one that hit most fans hard; a sudden crash back down to earth that highlights the considerable task ahead. It was particularly chastening following the intoxicating euphoria of Mata’s signing.
It was a defeat that embodied all United’s woes this season; unfavourable deflections, poor refereeing decisions and an endless stream of injuries to important players. Factor in the coup de grâce – that ex-United alumni are now cropping up to the club’s detriment, whereas previously they had a beautiful tendency to come to the side’s aid – and there appears to be an all-encompassing misfortune looming over the club at present.
This is compounding the side’s lack of confidence and form, but this is the plight of many Premier League clubs. In fact, this is football full stop. Moyes’ side must be able to deal with such adversity, and, as the old adage instructs, create its own luck.
Reds preoccupying themselves with the centre-half conundrum need but remember that these duos emerge cyclically. Of course it’s an unenviable task attempting to supplant Rio Ferdinand – Nemanja Vidić axis, but bear in mind that they succeeded Japp Stam / Ronnie Johnsen, and Steve Bruce / Gary Pallister. Phil Jones could become a United stalwart with a consistent centre-half berth. Chris Smalling is looking progressively solid, and Jonny Evans has bags of experience to draw upon, so a catastrophe isn’t quite upon the club yet.
The general consensus on Moyes is that he requires time to prove himself either way. Some believe three transfer windows should suffice. Others, including Henry Winter, say four. Gary Neville, five. The issue of whether Moyes can be entrusted with sizeable sums polarizes fans, but it’s another crucial facet of the managerial role on which the manager will be gauged.
Both Evertonians and United fans will offer broadly contrasting opinions on whether Moyes successfully harnesses youth-team prospects and whether his signings prove fruitful. That’s a discussion for another article. But one thing is certain; whoever Moyes brings in, he needs to forget the old Fergie-ism of throwing tea cups. Moyes needs to be chucking tea urns to get his marvels into gear.