Today sees the staging of the traditional curtain-raiser for the domestic football season here in England. The Community (née Charity) Shield will be contested at Wembley between the League Champions (United) and the FA Cup winners (Wigan) in what is generally regarded as the final warm-up game before the real business of the season begins.
However, Wigan were relegated after their FA Cup heroics against Citeh, so as a Championship side, they are already about 2 weeks into their season. As for United, their pre-season form has been spotty to say the least and new manager David Moyes is finding it every bit as challenging a job as you might expect. And, to be honest, he hasn’t exactly covered himself in glory either.
If only it were this simple…….
On the pitch, United have lost more games than they have won, which is not really that big a problem as long as you get things sorted by the start of the season. However, in mitigation, it should be said that Moyes has been bedevilled by the unavailability of players, either through injury or due to extended periods of rest after their involvement in (for example) the Confederations Cup or other summer frolics. Shinji Kagawa and Javier Hernandez have largely been absent and the likes of Jonny Evans have been sidelined with injury.
Then there are the off-the-field shenanigans, which I’d have to say have been somewhat more worrying. This summer’s class clown has been Wayne Rooney who despite earning his weight in banknotes every week has decided that United just don’t love him enough and that he wants to play for Chelsea. Rooney has not been seen in competitive action for United since April and made only a fleeting appearance on the pre-season tour before being flown home with an alleged hamstring strain. He is smart enough to realise that he has pretty much burnt all his bridges with the United fans – no-one asks to leave United twice – but Moyes’ problem is that he knows that Rooney is still a very good player and he doesn’t want to sell him to a rival team, yet no overseas team seem willing to take Rooney on – wisely, in my view.
This toxic scenario is likely to drag on for the rest of the month and, for once, United can find common cause with the derided Dippers down the East Lancs Road who are going through an almost identical scenario with cute & cuddly ‘Goofy’ Suarez, who has decided he wants to move to Arsenal in order to play in the Champions League this season rather than the Lancashire Senior Cup. I suppose there is some solace to be had here from the old saying that there’s always someone worse off than you – at least Rooney hasn’t tried to eat his way through an opposition defence yet.
Even so, Moyes will have to decide whether he would rather have Rooney poisoning United’s much-vaunted ‘esprit de corps’ or alternatively run the risk of seeing him banging in 25 goals in Chelsea blue next season. There are rumours circulating that senior United pros like Giggs, Rio and Pat Evra have already told Moyes how fed up everyone in the dressing room is with Rooney’s antics, so I think Moyes will have to sell him in the end. Let’s hope he manages to persuade Mourinho to throw in Juan Mata as part of a player + cash deal; I think most Reds would drive Rooney to Stamford Bridge themselves if Mata was part of any deal – he’s exactly the type of player we need in our midfield.
And there’s the second problem for Moyes – and in some ways it’s even more of a worry than the Rooney situation. The new manager very publicly nailed his colours to the mast in terms of identifying his summer targets – first of all it was Thiago Alacantara – now a Bayern Munich player, then it was Cesc Fabregas – still very much a Barcelona player – and of course, there was always the mirage of Ronaldo coming back shimmering in the background. Now we’re on to Luka Modric, apparently, who, if we are truly after him, is about 4th choice – and he will be aware of that. Ultimately, I fear that Moyes will end up going back to his former club Everton and being made to pay through the nose for Baines, a left-back we do not need and Fellaini, a midfield beanpole who is probably not good enough for United and certainly not the playmaker we have needed for years now.
What makes all this even more of a concern is that our main rivals – Citeh and Chelsea – seem to have had no problem in targeting and buying the players they wanted. United are, after all, the reigning champions, so you would think that players would be only too keen to join the club, but it would seem that the uncertainty about the post-Ferguson era and Moyes’ relative anonymity in Europe is now working against us.
If there is any good news at all, it is that the young players who took part in the pre-season tour are all progressing very nicely. Fergie’s final signing, Wilfried Zaha looks a real find and home-grown youngsters Jesse Lingard and Michael Keane are also likely to be pushing for first team action. There was also much enthusiasm for 18-year old Adnan Januzaj, but he’s a little raw right now. It would be nice to be able to report that two other promising youngsters, Will Keane and Nick Powell, are close to returning from injury, but even MUTV have offered no definitive information about either.
David Moyes needs a convincing win against Wigan this afternoon, just to quell the undercurrents of unease among United fans. He also needs to identify a midfield playmaker who can make things tick – and sadly, he probably also needs to get Wayne Rooney out of the club. It’s going to be a long season….