The hype and hoopla surrounding Manchester United’s 4-0 win over West Ham is witness to just how far behind the Red Devils have fallen since the Ferguson era.
But going by Sunday’s display, a new dawn could finally beckon at Old Trafford. “Never in my life have I played for a draw.” Sir Alex Ferguson said after his side’s 1-0 defeat at the hands of their noisy neighbours.
That loss eventually cost United the 2011-12 title, but the remark made by Sir Alex exemplified the confidence and belief he had in himself and his team. That, coupled with his honesty – as Gary Neville said it – was probably the secret to his success.
During the Ferguson era, the question was so often ‘when’, and not ‘if’ United would win the title. Their reputation demanded comprehensive victories week in-week out. The fans were used to it. Fearful and nervous, most teams went to Old Trafford in an attempt to avoid a heavy defeat.
Coming away with your dignity intact was a relief. When Sir Alex’s sides went 1-0 up, an air of inevitability lingered around Old Trafford, that it was only a matter of time before they sealed the deal with a second goal, and run riot with a third and a fourth.
Cut to the present, four years after Sir Alex Ferguson’s departure:
When Jose Mourinho’s Manchester United went 1-0 up against West Ham on Sunday, Slaven Bilic’s halftime team talk would have been one that could hurt a United fan’s ego. He would have briefed his players about taking up certain positions on the pitch when United sat back in the second half.
They would still be looking to get something out of the game, let alone dropping their heads and trying to avoid further damage. And who could blame them? United had struggled to kill teams off several times after taking the lead last season. The killer instinct was missing.
In one season of David Moyes, two of Louis Van Gaal, and one of Jose Mourinho, we have hardly seen the authenticity and killer instinct that a Manchester United team should have. The team often lacked belief, the transition was slow and frustrating, and the finishing was far from clinical.
However, Sunday’s display was different. Bilic might have expected United to sit back in the second half, but the home side did anything but that. The relentlessness and vibrancy in attack that we were so used to seeing when Sir Alex occupied the dugout was increasingly apparent.
Against West Ham, United were fluid, direct, they attacked in waves and finished expertly. The first goal was deja vu in terms of the way the move broke down. It felt so typical of Manchester United. They looked hungry, utterly determined, and it Petr Drury’s words, ‘They looked the business.’
Mourinho has never failed to win the league title in his second season with a club. Paul Pogba, Romelu Lukaku, and Nemanja Matic already seem to feel at home playing with each other.
The fans sense the beginning of a new and successful era, and the world could finally witness Manchester United in their true nature again, should things go to plan for Mourinho.
Henry Winter of The Times, summed it up perfectly. “For all the concerns about Jose Mourinho’s pragmatic nature when he arrived at Old Trafford, the Portuguese knows full well the club’s great history, and here were signs of him being prepared to unleash United fully.”
Sunday’s 4-0 thumping of West Ham was so much more important than just earning three points. It meant more than just their expensive striker opening his account; it meant more than Nemanja Matic winning man of the match.
Most crucially, it was a statement of intent and probably a glimpse of what is to follow. Manchester United, this season, will be in a hurry to bring the title back to Old Trafford.