Saturday Features

Theatre of Dreams: A fortress once more

- SARIN GHIMIRE

Oct 15, 2016-Believe it or not, the English Premier league this season is a battle of the managers. And for Manchester United, we have in our hands someone who knows how to win. As the likes of Pogbas and the Ibrahimovichs have had fans licking their lips for another intriguing season of the most popular league in the world, it does not matter whether our wins are as ugly as Mourinho’s previous triumphs, we are ready to lock ourselves in front of the television screen to watch United conquer the world again.

Managerial delight

Jose Mourinho, regarded by many as the most accomplished coaches in the world, surprised quite a few when he took the helm at Manchester United this summer. Mourinho, about a decade ago, was an intregal part of the revolution at Chelsea. Considered the ‘Special One’ by Chelsea fans, the relatively unknown Portuguese coach was thrust into limelight when he broke Arsenal and United’s traditional dominance in the league by claiming two league titles. Not to forget, he had already guided his previous club, FC Porto, to the Uefa Champions League trophy earlier. Mourinho’s career aimed for the stars thereafter. He won the famous treble—Italian Seria A, the UCL and their domestic cup—in a single season while in charge at Inter Milan. Some might argue that at Real Madrid, he failed to live up to his heights by not claiming Europe’s most coveted club trophy there, but others would still recall his Madrid days by fond memories of snatching back the La Liga from Barcelona, a squad at the time considered one of the strongest ever teams football had witnessed. Madrid had racked up over 100 points on the road to the title. But though he still managed another league title during his second stint at Chelsea, Mourinho reached his career low last year when the Blues suffered a season to forget, succumbing to a record low 10th place in the league. To add, the team was hovering around the relegation zone for a significant portion of last season.

Old Trafford, the Theatre of Dreams, is a footballing Mecca waiting to regain its lost glory. Living up to Sir Alex Ferguson’s legacy here, however, is no joke. David Moyes was nowhere close, and Van Gaal too took it on the chin when he was sacked last year despite United winning the FA cup. This season, following three consecutive league wins and the Community Shield title to add, talks were rife about Mourinho’s Red Devils mounting a title challenge. Those dreams came crashing down to reality after three back to back losses—two in the league and one in Europe—and a disappointing draw last week.

But fans have sensed a new aura this season, particularly a quick and positive style of play with plenty of player movement under the new coach. The astute signings made this season have also changed the dynamics of the team. United now have the a strong backbone—Ibrahimovich, arguably among the best strikers in the world and a real physical presence suited to English football; the most expensive signing ever, Pogba, working his tricks from midfield; a rock solid no nonsense African powerhouse in Eric Bailly; and the continuing goalie David de Gea, the Red Devil’s player of the season for the last three consecutive years.

Mourinho has notably changed his tactics since taking over the reigns at United. From ‘parking the bus’ during all away European games to sticking in the odd goal during counter attacks, Jose understands the demands of a club of a magnitude of Manchester. United did not come to command one of the biggest fan bases in the world overnight. It got there by playing irrepressible attractive football. “Attack, attack and attack” has for long, and for good reason, been an anthem at the hallowed Theatre of Dreams.

On the ascend

Though hopes are higher than they have been in the past three years, United followers will not be claiming to win the title this season, at least not yet. Not that this team is not good enough to win the league, but it is a team that needs time. The spine of the team is what forms the bedrock for any performance, and United have one that could face off with the likes of Manchester City, Arsenal and Chelsea. The only concern is the experience our spine has had in the demanding and unpredictable English football.

If an honest prediction is to be made, most would bank United to qualify for the UCL next season, finishing within the top four. But if United can consistently replicate the sort of performance they put against defending champions Leicester City then maybe United could just be in for a shot at the title come May. A second place finish, but lifting a domestic cup at Wembley should also be deemed as a successful campaign for a team which has gone through a complete revamp.

And though football can be an unpredictable game, it surely is an upshot for United fans, and neutrals alike, that the Theatre of Dreams is set to become the impenetrable fortress that it once was. And the BPL is a better league because of that.

Published: 15-10-2016 10:02

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