With another year coming to an end, Vincent Ralph looks back on Manchester United's 2013.
A is for Arsenal – Face it United fans: Arsenal are back, and they are arguably the favourites to lift the Premier League trophy come May. United’s once great rivals had a 2013 to remember; their victory in Munich the catalyst for a transition that has seen them build a healthy lead over the current champions.
B is for Ben Pearson – The winner of last season’s Jimmy Murphy Young Player of the Year award, Pearson is the closest United have to another Paul Scholes. While some may label such a description as lazy, they should watch him play first. His ability to turn out of trouble, take an extra second on the ball and spray it around the pitch suggests the midfielder is destined for big things.
C is for Cuneyt Cakir – Don’t recognise the name? Cakir was the referee who inexplicably sent off Nani in the second-leg of last season’s Champions League quarter-final against Real Madrid. Would United have otherwise gone on to win? Who knows? But Sir Alex Ferguson lost the chance to taste one final European triumph with the flick of a red card.
D is for Double Defeat – It wasn’t only the Champions League where United fell short. Chelsea proved their undoing in both the League Cup and the FA Cup. United thought they had the League Cup tie in the bag, only to lose 5-4 after extra-time, while they suffered a 1-0 defeat in the FA Cup Sixth Round replay.
E is for Europe – After the bitter disappointment of that loss to Madrid, this season’s Champions League campaign has given David Moyes some much needed relief from his league struggles. With a last-16 match against Olympiakos to look forward to next year, a prolonged stay in Europe’s elite competition is on the cards.
F is for Ferguson’s Farewell – The day was always going to come eventually, and yet United fans somehow thought it never would. Ferguson’s retirement was the impossible inevitability, but when he finally bid farewell on that rainy Manchester afternoon, it truly was the end of an era.
G is for Giggs – What more is there to say about this man? Many eyebrows were raised when Ryan Giggs was given both a contract extension and a coaching role last summer, but the Welshman has been one of United’s stand-out players – especially in Europe.
H is for History – Ferguson reminded the fans of this in his farewell address. He asked them to remember it, and to ensure they always supported the new manager. Like all clubs, United’s present is defined by its past, and Ferguson knows this more than most. He could so easily have been history long before he started winning trophies.
I is for Injuries – As with any manager, Moyes has had to contend with his fair share of injuries in his brief tenure, not least those that have kept Robin van Persie out for much of the campaign to date. If he can keep the majority of his side fit, he will have a great chance of ending his first season with a trophy…although it may not be the one he most wants.
J is for Januzaj – Given a place on the bench by Ferguson in his final match in charge, Moyes threw the teenager in from the start and was promptly rewarded with some scintillating performances. With a new long-term deal safely signed, United fans can now relax and enjoy Adnan Januzaj’s development from precocious winger to vital component (and a future number 10).
K is for Kagawa – Still something of a footballing enigma, Shinji Kagawa has at least started to show more than just flashes of the player he was at Borussia Dortmund. The fan-favourite is developing his wing-play and could still become an integral part of United’s makeup. Moyes certainly appears to appreciate him.
L is for Loan – Few played the loan system better than Ferguson, but Moyes is watching a group of players develop impressively at clubs across the country. The best of the lot is undoubtedly Nick Powell, who has thrived at Wigan and should be regularly turning out for United sooner rather than later. But there is also Jesse Lingard, Tom Lawrence, Michael and Will Keane and – further afield – Angelo Henriquez and Marnick Vermijl.
M is for Moyes – Taking on one of the biggest jobs in world football was never going to be a cake-walk, but despite some struggles Moyes has conducted himself well since his appointment. Transfer woes aside, he appears to be a man who knows his job is only just beginning, and with patience being the key-word, he could be hugely successful once the team he oversees is well and truly his team.
N is for Noisy Neighbours – United fans will not like me saying so, but Manchester City are very, very good now. Their squad is terrifying and their home form even more so. The fact they are starting to win away does not bode well for those attempting to finish above them, but that could be the spur United need to spend well, play well and ultimately ensure the noisy neighbours remain just that. It will be easier said than done though.
O is for Old Trafford Once a fortress, the Theatre of Dreams has become something of a nice day out for too many visitors so far this season. Moyes and his men will need to rectify that as soon as possible, but the fans must also play their part. Gone are the days when the Old Trafford faithful knew their team would find that winning or equalising goal in the end, but that could return if the belief emanates from the stands.
P is for Portugal – United are never far from the rumour mill, but this year has seen them linked with a plethora of players from one country in particular – Portugal. FC Porto, Benfica and Sporting Lisbon are reportedly United’s retail outlets of choice, with Nemanja Matic, Eliaquim Mangala and William Carvalho among the players linked with a switch to Old Trafford.
Q is for Quality (or more specifically, a lack of it) – Moyes inherited a lot of players, but in so doing he also inherited a lot of deadwood. Ashley Young, Anderson and Nani are those most heavily linked with an exit, in part to make way for others, but more so because they have simply failed to live up to the considerable hype that accompanied their arrivals.
R is for Rooney – At the end of last season, Wayne Rooney could not even get in the squad, with the soon-to-depart Ferguson telling anyone who would listen that he wanted out. As the summer went on, the links with Chelsea grew stronger, and many expected him to swap red for blue by September. But instead Rooney has been mercurial, saving his side time and again and looking every inch a man they need to tie down to a new deal as soon as possible.
S is for Scholes – He retired once before, but in May he did so for good. Rightly hailed as one of United’s greatest ever players, Paul Scholes’ impact may have dwindled slightly in his final season, but those cross-field passes, his vision, even the ‘tackles’ were still as awesome as ever.
T is for Transfer Tribulations – All Moyes needed was one big signing, a statement that he was every inch the worthy successor to a legend. But the new boss’s first transfer window at Old Trafford did not go according to plan. From the ill-fated pursuit of Cesc Fabregas to the bizarre deadline-day dealings that saw nothing more than an over-priced Marouane Fellaini arrive, nothing went right for Moyes.
U is for United – For the club and everything it stands for. In transition, that sense of togetherness is more important than ever.
V is for van Persie – The Dutchman proved the difference last season, his outstanding form ensuring Ferguson’s legacy was full-stopped with one last league success. Did the Scot sign the former Arsenal man to ensure he left with a bang? We will never know for sure, but van Persie was outstanding for United last season; now he just needs to stay fit and firing under Moyes.
W is for West Bromwich Albion – Ferguson’s final match in charge of United was never going to be a dull affair, but no one was expecting this. When the champions raced into a three-goal lead it looked like it could be a battering, but the Baggies bounced back and, inspired by Romelu Lukaku, they played their part in a 10-goal thriller.
X is for Xavi – Because let’s face it, United still need a midfielder of that ilk to replicate the domestic and European success of the past. Until Moyes spends big – or at least spends well – on a truly world-class midfielder, the best Europe has to offer will always have the beating of the current English champions.
Y is for ‘Yes’ – Moyes said it when United came calling, Ferguson said it when he realised his time was up, and now the new boss will be hoping plenty of players say it in the coming months – both those he hopes to sign and those he hopes will agree new contracts, not least Rooney.
Z is for Zaha – The nifty winger was supposed to be the heir-apparent to Cristiano Ronaldo (the gangly winger rather than world-class talent he became) but instead Wilfried Zaha has seen little action and is tipped for a January loan move. It is not how the former Crystal Palace man would have expected things to go, especially after he impressed on the club’s pre-season tour. But time is on his side, and a temporary move away could be exactly what he needs.
image: © eirikref