It seems futile to predict what will happen in Man United's opening game against Swansea when an individual famed for his unpredictability will hold most sway over proceedings. Instead, here’s what Cathal thinks will happen.
The opening minutes of the match are predictably cagey; the United players are still getting to grips with the new tactics and Steve the Pirate’s Swansea aren’t as endearingly swashbuckling as their manager. Van Gaal appears rather subdued in the dugout, deep in thought. While Fergie chewed Wrigleys Spearmint and Moyes his own fingernails, LVG opts for a teaspoonful of peanut butter, and licks his lips every few minutes as if to affirm his choice. No one sits in the seat to his immediate left – this is his ‘thinking space’.
Without looking dangerous, Swansea advance into the United half in the nineteenth minute. Nathan Dyer receives the ball and notes David de Gea’s position, several yards off his line. “This one’s for you, Brittsy,” he murmurs, and attempts a speculative chip from forty yards. De Gea barely manages to tip it over before going back to fondling the wisps on his chin and dreaming of Krispy Kreme doughnuts. Fierce debate erupts over the ensuing corner, with every Swansea player seemingly yearning for the chance to play Robin to Wilfried Bony’s Batman.
Enter Wayne Routledge, forgotten but not gone, who whips in a decidedly average ball while his teammates begin to draw straws. Bony is far from average, though, if you haven’t already heard from every commentator who has ever covered him. Despite being slower than an infant pushing treacle up a hill, Bony has the height, strength, and the three games of top-flight experience necessary to elude this Man Utd defence, and he nods in the opener. Ryan Giggs quickly texts Kerry Katona to inform her that he will smell of peanut butter later.
For the rest of the half, Garry Monk’s side defends their goal like his crew would defend their ship from Her Majesty’s Navy. The use of at least one cutlass evades the eye of Mike Dean, and Swansea are lucky to still have eleven players leaving the pitch at halftime.
Not a word is spoken in the home team’s dressing room, with van Gaal lurking in the showers, just out of sight. As the time to return to the pitch looms nearer, he stations himself at the door before slowly opening it. His players silently file past him, and he whispers in each of their ears, “If we do not win this match, you will get to see my Wilfried Bony.”
What follows is a masterclass in fear. United scuttle around frantically after the restart, and score three goals in seven minutes with a force of will not seen in 12-14 months. Robin van Persie bags two from close range and newly-appointed captain Wayne Rooney converts a penalty after Ashley Williams resumed his feud with van Persie’s head.
Shortly afterwards, Marouane Fellaini replaces Rooney, presumably so the latter can get a head start on his next transfer request. Indeed, sources later confirm that he was spotted watching the rest of the game with agent Paul Stretford in a nearby public house.
As time winds down, Fellaini exchanges a nifty one-two with one Juan Mata, then slots into the bottom corner with the grace we presumed he traded to that goblin in exchange for Diana Ross’s hair. Delight appears to elude him, however. He races towards the crowd and quickly locates a harrowed-looking man with ginger hair and a greyish complexion. The Belgian draws himself up to his full height and thrusts his left wrist in the face of the man, who shits himself accordingly. It is later revealed that the wrist sports a tattoo of the words, ‘Never clip my wings’. It is a poignant reflection of the game as a whole.
Van Gaal turns up to his post match interview wearing nothing but jean shorts and a wry smile. He immediately asks when he will receive his Manager of the Month trophy without the slightest hint of irony. The manager slurs his way through a barrage of questions, with one phrase, ‘Dutch courage’, used liberally. Reporters note the potent, but undeniably alluring, mixture of peanuts and Jägermeister on his breath, though his face is no redder than usual.
When a small Asian lady wearing a ten-gallon hat calls from the doorway, the crowd parts like the Red Sea and van Gaal skips toward her with the vigour of a man half his age and a third of his weight. “Time to paint the town orange,” he thinks to himself.
Follow Cathal on Twitter, @cathalloughran