The bookies rarely get it wrong and Manchester United are currently third favourites to win this season’s Premier League title. Despite becoming champions in late April, ending with an 11 point lead at the top, apparently Chelsea and Manchester City have a better chance this time around with their new managers and sparkly new signings.
When asked after the Community Shield win how to evaluate this team Robin van Persie was in bullish mood. He said: “I believe in this team.
“I don’t want to be funny but we are the league champions so based on what are we third favourites? Can you explain that? I don’t really care.”
The Dutch have never been shy to speak their mind yet the quote almost carries a hint of the mentality United will fortify this season. The ‘you doubt us, we don’t care’ mentality that Sir Alex Ferguson imposed is up and in force, albeit with a new man in charge.
The doubters have had their say during the summer with the back pages only too happy to gossip about filling that seemingly seismic gap in centre-midfield. Even I have questioned the pulling power of the new manager yet manipulating the media may work to United’s advantage. Anyone who has noted David Moyes’ progress as a manager will know how he can work the press. While he has a way to go with mind games to match his predecessor, he can go toe-to-toe when the opportunity presents itself.
Back in February 2007, the then Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez was annoyed by the tactical approach that Moyes’ Everton side had employed after a 0-0 draw at Anfield. He said: “When you play against the smaller teams at Anfield you know the game will be narrow. One team wanted to win and one didn’t want to lose.”
Of course, Benitez has a history of instigating (and largely failing at) mind games yet Moyes did not bite.
Two years later Moyes’ Everton again left Anfield with a hard-earned point and Benitez attempted to reignite the row. He said: “I am really pleased with my team. We deserved to win. To play like that against a team with ten players behind the ball is not easy but we worked hard, created chances and reacted very positively.”
The bait was out there again and this time Moyes had a polite yet loaded retort. He said: “This [Liverpool] is a great football club but Everton do things with dignity and style. I didn’t come looking for a draw, although I would have taken one in the end. We look after our own business at Everton. We do things with a bit of dignity at Everton.”
Tellingly, Moyes knows how to defend his players and his club without jabbing fingers or becoming embroiled in psychological warfare. There will be questionable performances and defeats along the way yet the United way is to keep those doubts in house, work out what went wrong then come out fighting, not for the club to air it’s dirty laundry.
While Ferguson may have been the master of mind-games, Moyes knows how to look after his own and the experience will put him in good stead this season when he knows there are several who doubt that he is up to the job.
This has been his first summer with a sizeable transfer kitty and until a midfielder has signed, United will continue to look gooey in the middle. This will also be his first season in the Champions League where his tactical nous will be fully tested. Perhaps most importantly, this is his first season at a huge football club and one where every quote will be scrutinised around the world.
The first game under the new regime went well with a 4-1 win over Swansea yet the real test will come with the pressure of a first match at Old Trafford against Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea. A marker could be set with a victory and you sense that the coming months could be defined by how United set about against one of their closest rivals.
Ferguson has gone and a fair amount of the fear factor of playing against his team, his spirit and his never-say-die attitude has gone with him. He knew this all too well when he announced his retirement and the rallying cry in his farewell speech should be listened to again by anyone going to the game.
“Your job now is to get behind our new manager.” Get the strepsils in, you should be hoarse come the end of the game.
Night matches at Old Trafford are renowned for their noise and for a mentality to work, everyone has to pull together. Barracking the shirts from five minutes before kick-off to full-time would help show the world that normal service has been resumed. There will be a new man in the manager’s seat yet that should not distract the public that it is still business as usual in M16. Robin van Persie believes in this team and so should every fan.