It’s been an odd week since United’s underwhelming season ended with the limp defeat against Chelsea in the FA Cup final at Wembley. The prevailing attitude amongst the fans seems to be similar to mine, many being glad the campaign had ended. We, Mourinho and the team perhaps need a break from each other and it’s been nice to pretend at least that the slate has been wiped clean and that we take some time apart and start afresh when the summer tour to America kicks off in Phoenix on July 19th.
This last week should have been one in which we could forget domestic football issues and focus on the summer and the upcoming World Cup in Russia. Instead it’s been seven days of tension, with Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool facing off against Real Madrid in the Champions League final last Saturday. Fan groups love to claim that others are ‘obsessed’ with them, singing about their team or posting about them on the internet. There are some who perhaps take it too far, but the truth is that football is about rivalries. Without them the game would not be half as enthralling to follow. Winning is all the sweeter when it is against a rival or if a trophy is won at the expense of them. United finally regaining the Premier League title in 1993 was enhanced because the period of Liverpool dominance that came before it that was finally broken, yet to return. Subsequent titles meant more because of Sir Alex’s personal spats with Kevin Keegan, Arsene Wenger, José Mourinho, Rafa Benitez and Manchester City in general. The 2007/8 title is one that will always resonate with me because it involved the only serious title battle United have had with Liverpool in the last near-thirty years. We HAD to prevail and ultimately did.
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The last week, which should have been one of relief at the conclusion of a difficult season and excitement as we look forward to a World Cup, has been dominated by stress and an increasingly annoying sickness in the pit of our stomachs. Saturday, and the Champions League final itself, was not fun at all, with Liverpool so close to a sixth European Cup. With United stuck on three and having experienced a campaign in the competition which was as conservative and tedious as the Scousers’ was brave and thrilling, the thought of Klopp’s side moving three trophies clear and having a season about which they would crow forever was difficult to contemplate. It made for an uncomfortable Saturday evening and it would be churlish to deny that with a poorer squad Liverpool bravely went toe to toe with a team attempting to win its third consecutive Champions League.
And ultimately they did win that third, much to our collective relief, in a manner which will give birth to a million internet memes. Poor Loris Karius, a walking, talking mistake waiting to happen who gifted the Spaniards with two goals in comical fashion and eased all of our fears. Perhaps it’s my age, but i feel sorry for the man, much as I did for Mo Salah after he was forced off injured in tears in the first half after a tangle with Sergio Ramos, whilst also appreciating that schadenfreude is an important part of the football fan experience. Like Gerrard’s slip or John Terry’s missed penalty in the rain in Moscow, it will become part of folklore and that is how it should be. Karius will no doubt take some time to recover and it’s hard to see him playing for Liverpool again. I do not envy him right now, regardless of the stupendous wages which some imagine mean that a human being cannot be unhappy about something that happens to them during their careers.
With the threat averted we can now finally take that break from football for a few weeks until the World Cup kicks off, but as the games peter out the transfer rumour mill starts to grind. Reports this week have suggested that Jose Mourinho is attempting to sign the Brazillian midfielder Fred from Shakhtar Donetsk, Tottenham centre back Toby Alderweireld and Chelsea’s Willian. Some United fans have been concerned by the potential sale of a young talent in Anthony Martial and the purchases of a number of older players. It has been a feature of Jose Mourinho’s career that he burns brightly for a couple of years before self-combusting in his third, burning down all around him.
The worry is that, rather like Sir Alex, he will leave us with an ageing squad that will need ripping up again and rebuilding after his departure.
This is what ultimately transpired at Inter Milan, where Mourinho led a team packed with those aged 30+ to an unprecedented treble in his final campaign in Italy. He then left to join Real Madrid and his successor Rafael Benitez was provided with the mother of all hospital passes, even if he did contribute to his own downfall. But other than that one example Jose’s career has been notable for the fact that he has left strong squads for the next man and it is likely he’ll do so at United. Real Madrid won the Champions League immediately after his departure and have embarked on an unprecedented spell of success in the competition. Chelsea won the title in the first full season after his most recent departure. He may leave fractured, unhappy squads, but they tend to be full of very good footballers, capable of being united and refocused by the next man.
The question is by the time he does depart will he be leaving a squad full of title winners or one that failed to make it 21 for the Reds?