2016, perhaps the most unforgettable year in my short life-time of being a Manchester United supporter. Jubilation, anticipation, frustration, hope, disbelief. United have put their supporters through the mill in 2016, however 2017 promises to be a year to remember for all the right reasons.
Louis van Gaal had guided United to 6th in the table by the turn of 2016 and January included highly unconvincing wins against Swansea, Sheffield United and the scousers, made sweeter as it was one of the worst performances I had seen from a United side at Anfield. These results were marred by a 1-0 home defeat by Southampton, a reality check which made most united fans question whether or not Louis Van Gaal was the right man to take forward. Whispers of the “Special One” were already being heard among the Old Trafford faithful after Jose Mourinho had been given his marching orders by Roman Abramovich.
United began February in 5th, still 5 points off the Champions League places. Crushing away defeats to Sunderland and FC Mitjylland in the Europa League left United fans in despair with a popular chant about the famous European Cup win in 99 being changed to “freezing cold on a Thursday night and. we’re playing f****** s****”. It seemed all faith in King Louis had been destroyed. Enter Marcus Rashford. The teenager was a late injury replacement for Anthony Martial in the return Europa League fixture against Mitjylland, scoring two opportunist goals reminiscent of when a young Wayne Rooney broke onto the scene. He followed that up even more impressiely with a brace against ‘title contenders’ Arsenal and the kids were digging Van Gaal out of a rather large hole.
March was bitter sweet, with United crashing out of the Europa League to Liverpool, not a just a tough one to swallow as it was against the old enemy, but also meant a chance of qualifying for the Champions League was gone. Whispers of Mourinho had turned into desperate cries of help, as United continued to play slow, pedestrian football. A 1-0 win away to rivals City was the highlight of the month, with an indiviual piece of brilliance from Rashford the difference between the two sides in a low quality game.
April, with United’s focus clawing the gap on top 4 and their only chance of silverware, the FA Cup. Narrow wins against Everton, Aston Villa and Crystal Palace kept United’s top 4 hopes alive and a Wembley final trip was booked after Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford were the match winners against Everton and West Ham respectively. Would an FA Cup victory be enough for Louis to keep his job?
It had reached the climax of an underwhelming season and any hope of Top 4 had gone with a devastating loss away to West Ham on the Irons’ last game at Upton Park. The season’s last home game being postponed due to a bomb scare, a sad end to a shocking league campaign.
Attention turned to the FA Cup final against Crystal Palace. A chance for United to finally get their hands on a trophy they had not won for over a decade. Jason Puncheons goal cancelled out by a Juan Mata and an excellent extra-time winner by unlikely source Jesse Lingard. King Louis had won silverware, but it was not enough to keep his job and his United career was brought to a sour ending after it was revealed he had been sacked just as the FA Cup celebrations had begun. Many United fans had got their wish. Jose Mourinho was appointed Manchester United manager. Mourinho was a proven winner, securing titles within 2 years at whichever club he has been at.
Jose’s reign begins
Despite the disastrous pre- season tour of China, this was the most exciting build up to a season United fans could imagine. Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Eric Bailly and Henrikh Mkhitaryan had been brought in, improving United hugely in both attacking and defensive areas. Zlatan’s goal scoring record something quite special, Bailly, relatively unknown, but had hit the ground running straight away. Mkhitaryan was named Bundesliga player of the year and was undoubtedly one of the best attacking talents in all of Europe. United had promised Mourinho a huge war chest to take United back to the top and only £60 was spent on the 3 new signings combined with Zlatan Ibrahimovic signed on a free transfer. Rumours of a return of Paul Pogba were rife after the 23 year old had been named in the team of the year and was widely regarded as one of, if not the best midfield player in the world. United had done it, signed the most promising player in the world, smashing the world record transfer fee in the process. Mourinho’s army was coming together and United finally looked to have a squad capable of challenging for the title once again.
The season was upon us and United had begun the season in fantastic style, winning the community shield and following it up with three consecutive league wins against Bournemouth, Southampton and Hull City. However, 3 defeats including a home defeat to Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City gave me and many other fans a reality check. We were not there yet. United were hammered on Mourinho’s return to Stamford Bridge and were frustrated in home draws to West Ham, Arsenal, Stoke and Burnley. Despite disappointing results , performances were improving and attacking football was back at Old Trafford. I, like many was less than impressed with Henrikh Mkhitaryan’s outcast from the team, his return was sensational with goals against Tottenham and Sunderland, the latter a contender for goal of the season, putting United back in the top 4 hunt in 2017.
It is still unclear whether Man Utd will become ‘great’ again under Mourinho, but I for one am confident that no other man would be better for the role and i think the team Jose has put together is seriously capable of challenging for all of football’s major honours.
Bring on 2017.