One of the most common sentences uttered by United fans lamenting their team’s’ inability to recreate the glory days of the Sir Alex Ferguson era is without doubt “we’ve still not replaced Keano.”
Yes, the Reds may have lifted five titles, an FA Cup and a Champions League since the Irish
enforcer with the hat possessing special powers departed, but they’ve yet to see a midfielder come close to replicating the leadership or match dominating ability of Cork’s finest. It’s not just the midfield that United fans look back on with a heartfelt yearning, defenders such as Rio Ferdinand, Nemanja Vidic and Patrice Evra are often spoken about with a reverence that borders on obsession by many older fans. Everytime someone beats Daley Blind in the air, or Chris Smalling misplaces a pass, the screams for another “Rio and Nemanja” aren’t just audible. They’re tangible.
There may be a longing for the defenders and midfielders that graced Old Trafford years ago to come back to the Theatre of Dreams, but much less fuss is made of the need for a return of the strikers that delivered so much success during the Sir Alex Ferguson era. It’s not that Eric is no longer the king or anything else quite so treasonous it’s just that in the past few months as United have stuttered and stumbled along to yet another underwhelming league finish, the one shining light – other than that FA Cup win and the man between the sticks- has been the potential of the Reds’ strikers. Messrs Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial didn’t so much burst onto the scene as explode onto it in a fashion that made Hiroshima look like a party popper. Martial could have retired after his debut against Liverpool and there’s a good chance he’d still hear his name sung at Old Trafford, while Rashford’s trick of scoring a brace on both his Europa and Premier League debut had the added bonus of reminding United fans just how good the club’s academy is and how much Arsene Wenger has lost the ability to put together a title challenge. Both Rashford and Martial have had their detractors and both have delivered more match winning goals in seminal games, to leave their critics looking more lost than Roy Hodgson at an England press conference.
With Anthony and Marcus giving the United forward line youthful exuberance and a swagger to make Ian Brown blush, all that’s needed for the coming campaign is a bit of experience surely. Someone who’s scored more goals than Joe Hart’s done endorsements, a man not only gifted in
the art of scoring, but with enough confidence to make speaking about himself in the third person seem not odd, but somehow compulsory.
United’s acquisition, sorry Zlatan’s acquisition of United, after all you don’t buy Zlatan, he buys you, has given Jose Mourinho three strikers that would walk into almost any team in the Premier League- except Zlatan of course as Zlatan doesn’t walk anywhere, he simply appears in the places he needs to be.
With a triumvirate to take the league by storm you’d expect Jose Mourinho to have drunk the ‘Wayne Rooney is a midfielder’ Kool Aid – if not through belief but at least convenience, but the Special One finally ended the most pointless debate of the past decade with a 30 minute press
conference. Mourinho’s assertion that Rooney isn’t a “6” was exactly what the vast majority of people who’ve witnessed him play have been saying for the best part of 15 years. For some reason though, Louis van Gaal seemed to disagree and eventually after around 50 games being not very good in that position, a couple of good performances against poor opposition had everyone convinced that Rooney actually was a midfielder after all. Well, Jose disagrees and as he informed the world’s media, it was only a year ago he won a title, so we’ll take it he knows what he’s talking about which means Rooney is now going back to the position he’s played since he was walking.
That now means United have four striker options, Rashford, Martial, Ibrahimovic and Rooney, although to be fair Zlatan is never an option he’s mandatory. Suddenly and without anyone noticing Jose Mourinho seems to have assembled himself a set of strikers to rival that of 1999. Back then Andy Cole, Teddy Sheringham, Dwight Yorke and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer gave United the greatest season in the history of football. Literally.
What’s even more impressive than the fact United swept all before them en route to the historic treble, is the fact that each one played a huge role in the Reds successes that season. Yorke and Cole formed a telepathic partnership that made Paul McKenna look about as insightful as David Cameron, Solskjaer scored more goals from the bench that season than Emile Heskey managed in 12 years of regular football and Teddy Sheringham bagged more cup final goals than Thierry Henry managed in a career. “No Teddy, no treble” was the mantra of a colleague around the time of 99 and he was right. I’m not suggesting the new Reds forward foursome are about to deliver the treble- for starters it’s impossible as United aren’t in the Champions League – but they could help fire their side to a hugely successful season. Possibly a title winning one.
While United fans lament the absence of a Keano, or a Nemanja, there’s every chance this season the only strikers being spoken about at Old Trafford are the four Mourinho can now turn to as he looks to remind the world, his final months at Chelsea were a fluke, his previous years in management haven’t been. Let the fun commence.