Manchester United’s early ascension to the top of the Premier League may not be revealing in itself, but the swagger and rapidity with which they’ve done so has cast eyebrows aloft. The opening day away defeat of West Brom may have been more customary than stylistically enamouring, but what followed, the sweeping aside of Spurs and the relentless blitzkrieg on Arsenal, bewildered as much as pleased all revelling reds.
The kids were more than all right. Gone, of course, were the aged stars of Gary Neville, Paul Scholes, and Edwin van der Sar, and with them, too, a stockpile of dead-wood: O’Shea, Bebe, Obertan, Brown and, literally in this case, Owen Hargreaves. Age cannot be restrained and time for the dispensable recedes. As is well known by now, Alex Ferguson can be as brutal as he is loyal to those in his care, but whilst the transfer window trickled away, and his loyal followers pleaded belief in the man, many reds entered into an only too familiar state of trepidation over the squad’s overall state. A need for a midfielder was as obvious as the gulf in class which separated United from their May murderers in Wembley. How, came the cries, do we improve now? Youth, maybe.
As has become clear in the early season, and now on the international stage, Chris Smalling’s progression as one of Europe’s most capable young defenders has seen him secure a starting place for United and England at a time where few had expected him to. Oddly, it is the prolonged declination of Rio Ferdinand (fitness wise, at least) that has spiralled Smalling into a sure-starter for club and country. His current berth, slotting in at right back, may be a more than admirable transfer, but let us not forget that long-term it is at centre half where he’ll continue his United career. It was playing in that position where United’s eyes were first averted to Smalling, an often clumsy bit-part filler-in for Fulham, and it’s where, filling in for Rio, he quickly inspired mass optimism amongst all watching reds.
The inclusion of youth is a bold and brave move by Ferguson. Whether it was a decision of his own, or one forced upon him by financial restrictions, we’ll never know. It won’t be enough for Europe
A superior footballer to Vidic, unequivocally more aggressive than Ferdinand, his steadfast rise to prominence has already rendered his £10m snaring from Fulham a snip that once seemed gargantuan. Beside him, Phil Jones, a summer capture from Blackburn, is already a man-mountain at just 19. His surprise move to Manchester United, at a time when Dalglish had believed he was Liverpool’s, shouldn’t have raised too many heads, in truth; Ferguson likes to do his moving quickly and secretly. In Jones he has invested in a prospect already nearing completion. Immensely tough and a more than keen user of the ball, Jones is a leader who could very well be a sure starter next season.
Yet, it is in the middle and up front, where reds are deriving the most new pleasure from. As a twosome, Tom Cleverley and Danny Welbeck have perhaps traversed the most galling of circuits to reach Manchester United’s first team. Cleverely, for instance, has been on United’s books since the age of twelve, and has worked tirelessly to leap from one rung to the next. Similarly, Danny Welbeck, the only Mancunian in United’s present set-up, has stridden to condition himself to the illimitable rigors of life at the highest level. It is in their patterns of play, the quick-paced and fearless exuberance which only the young striving to make it can exude, that is most touching and has United at their now rediscovered most frightening.
The inevitable disappointment of not signing an established midfielder still hangs heavy, but there is a certain undistinguishable romance bearing witness to your young battalion coming good. The terrier-like disembodying of Man City in the Community Shield alerted red pulses; the subsequent gelling and frequency of play has cast all expectations into dream-land, a result of unexpected glee blended with hyperbolic giddiness. It needs to be understood that the season is a mere three games into its birth – but it would be amiss to not smile at the intrigue it has given birth to.
The inclusion of youth is a bold and brave move by Ferguson. Whether it was a decision of his own, or one forced upon him by financial restrictions, we’ll never know. It won’t be enough for Europe; it may not even be enough for another league success – but there’s something of the old United way in it; An endearing and much missed fearlessness.
Sure, given the enormous gaps in midfield, it looks like it could all implode at any time, but most will be appeased if it’s compensated by forever going for the throat of the opponent. Score as many as you like, we’ll score one more. Or, ahem, 8, as recent events displayed.
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