October is a weird month. Summer is nothing but a distant memory, Christmas is still only a blip on the horizon, days get shorter and rain falls with the same impeccable regularity with which Oliver Holt writes a patronising column in the Daily Mirror.
Leaves turn yellow and fall, England stumble from one unconvincing performance against a pub team to a mediocre showing against a Sunday league outfit, as Fleet Street’s finest desperately try to convince us that we should all care ever so dearly about a group of players that means nothing to most of the country and even less so to United fans.
Roy Keane wants us all to know that he loves the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, though he also disdains humans and just about everything that stands between him and the aforementioned truth.
Meanwhile, Fergie admits, only three or four years too late, that the team could have done with a midfielder here and a winger there but, you know, nothing too high profile, for there’s never been any value in the transfer market and David Moyes was the right man to take the club forward. Or perhaps he wasn’t, but at least last season was a laugh. Of sorts.
The weirdest thing about October, however, is that the international break – which lasts only for 10 days, even though by the time United take on West Brom on Monday night we’ll all feel like it’s been two years since we’ve last seen them in action – is often used by experts, pundits and journalists to decipher the verdicts the first two months of the season have offered.
It is, of course, a pointless exercise, for trying to predict the outcome of a nine-month season after seven games have been played is the equivalent of attempt to summarise an Ashes series after the first session in the first Test. It might give some indications, but little else.
As far as United are concerned, however, things are, as usual, slightly different, as the club has been under scrutiny ever since Louis Van Gaal was appointed and were described as a team in permanent decline after an extremely inauspicious start to the campaign.
Not only did United lose to Swansea and stumbled their way to draws at Sunderland and Burnley, they did so by committing the cardinal sin of spending money for world class players, thus enraging the hordes of football moralists across the country.
For all the sneering about overpaid signings and waving farewell to the United traditions of promoting youngsters through the academy, things haven’t quite panned out as some of the clowns polluting the pages of red tops and football shows on TV and radio would have hoped for.
Angel Di Maria has scored three goals and assisted just as many in five league appearances, but while figures are often used to justify price-tags in football, numbers just don’t do justice to the impact the Argentinian has had on United. If Robin Van Persie’s arrival in the summer of 2012 galvanised the club to wrestle the title back from City’s grasp, then Di Maria has taken the Dutchman’s impact and raised the bar of a few notches in his first two months at the club.
The former Real Madrid players is not only a fantastic footballer – Cristiano Ronaldo, who may know a thing or two about football, was extremely disappointed at Madrid’s decision to sell Di Maria – he’s also the sort of player United had missed since Ronaldo left for the Spanish capital in 2009, for he’s the sort of player who can always make something happen and has fans on the edge of their seats.
Ander Herrera and Daley Blind might not be household names just yet – though one suspects that, had they signed for another club, they would been hailed as wonderful players – but both have represented an immense improvement on their predecessors in the middle of the park, while Radamel Falcao’s loan deal could turn out to be an incredibly shrewd piece of business.
Meanwhile, for all the uproar about United abandoning their tradition, Tyler Blackett has made five appearances, Paddy McNair played back-to-back Premier League games and there have been cameos for Jesse Lingard, Michael Keane and James Wilson, while Adnan Januzaj has come off the bench five times.
After a couple of season in the doldrums, United’s number seven shirt finally has a legitimate holder, while the club finally has a vision. It might, of course, take Van Gaal a season or two to implement his football philosophy exactly as he wishes and United will receive the occasional thumping but setbacks are part of the learning curve, a process which the club needed desperately after the last couple of seasons.
Fergie’s final years in charge were successful but many felt the club had lost its way as United, for one reason or the other, failed to build upon the success of the 2007-2009 seasons and ended up settling for standards, rather than setting them. As others, in Europe and in England, strengthen and strived for success, United slipped into complacency, becoming reactive rather than proactive or, as Keane put it in his book, shying away from what they had been throughout the previous two decades.
If the club’s vision was blurred towards the end of Fergie’s reign, last season it precipitated into complete and utter blindness, an approach Van Gaal wasted no time in rectifying this summer.
Of course, United’s defence remains as solid as melted butter and bigger tests await over the next six weeks, but only the most cynical of reds – of which, by the way, there are aplenty – would argue that the team is not showing improvements, small though as they might be, as each game goes by.
October is not the time for judgement or verdicts, but the first signs are encouraging. For the first time in 18 months, United are a work in a progress and while it can be a source of frustration, it is also terribly exciting.
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