ROB: I have to start with the obvious one here, and I’m sorry to remind you (O’Sullivan was annoyed at me for asking him the same thing when he did this): how odd is this season going to be without Ferguson?
ZAC: Pretty odd, though I think we – or I – have already started to adjust, because Moyes, and the idea of no Ferguson, is all you ever hear about, even when you try to avoid it. You can’t run away from it. I almost forgot it was summer. I mean, this guy I sort of kinda know, please-leave-me-alone, man, who used to think Shaun Wright-Phillips played for Arsenal, keeps asking me about it and the new season. So the sound of life after Ferguson has definitely become less odd over time, obviously (unlike this guy: he’s aged badly. He needs a holiday. Me too, actually).
And it’s not as odd as it should be because this already feels like David Moyes’ Manchester United. All we want is a lovely Spanish midfielder, the sort of which Blues are pretty familiar with, but the way we’ve gone about it is strange – not criticising – and it feels new. With Thiago – lovely and sweet Thiago – we seemed to miss out to a team with more pull for this particular player, but actually looking at central midfield as the problem position brings its promise. Not that Ferguson would not have signed one or a couple, but I think we should give Moyes this, just because he needs something. We’ve also made our pursuit of Fabregas public, which is, well, you know, while Rooney keeps doing stuff in the background that keeps bringing our new manager into it. Moyes has been our manager for a little over a month, but it’s felt like much more.
ROB: Is Moyes the right man for the job?
ZAC: I don’t know, football opinions are hard. As I type, we’ve been linked to Leon Osman. Or we appear to be. It’s Twitter. They’re always doing that kind of thing on there. But it sounds very Moyes-like, doesn’t it? The real answer to this, of course, won’t become clear until September. Or later. The window is a small part of it, but we play some strong teams – and Liverpool, haw haw – right away that’ll test him. What we know for sure is that Sean O’Sullivan is much better at this.
I should say that I am looking at Mourinho at Chelsea with some weird hate-lust; I don’t like him much, but I reckon he’d have been really good for us. I initially agreed with the argument that went: “oh, but he never really settles in a job.” He’s managed Chelsea, Inter and Real – there are few places he could and would go after United. I also don’t think he fancies international management, so there’s not reason why he could not have been a long-term appointment. But I like Moyes. He used his resources well at Everton, whatever that means. And who else was there? Klopp, who seems a little condescending anyway, won’t leave Dortmund and we were too late with Guardiola, who took Thiago with him, of course. The sweet and lovely Thiago.
Anyway, how confident are you this season about winning the title?
ROB: If the transfer window shut right now, I’d say we’d be favourites, but obviously there’s still a lot of time for United and Chelsea to strengthen. Mourinho’s return galvanised their fanbase and he has an ability to make players love him, so they’ll be a lot more dangerous than when Rafa Benitez was in charge, and I think Ferguson has left Moyes with a fine squad of players. I’ll go for us to win it but I’m aware that a lot could change yet.
ZAC: Chelsea are shaping up well. Perhaps they’re favourites. And are you happy with your signings? Negredo and Jovetic sounds like some good business, and the #experts would agree. I felt you guys missed Balotelli a lot last year, and possibly could have signed someone in January. Or earlier. Imagine if you had got Robin van Persie instead of us. Jesus.
ROB: Chelsea have a great squad. I was really hoping they would fail to qualify for the Champions League under Rafa in the hope that it might hold them back a little but obviously that never happened. They have quality right through their side and they now have a manager who knows what he’s doing and has the backing of his supporters, so they’ll be dangerous.
I like the business we’ve done in the sense that we’ve addressed the areas that were most in need of addressing. We’ve signed four new players but the amount of new options they give us makes it feel like we’ve signed more.
We had zero width last season, so Navas coming in is great for us. He’s an out-and-out winger who likes to go past his man and that’s something we simply didn’t have before. His pace is phenomenal, another element we needed in the attacking third.
Negredo gives us a real physical presence. He’s a proper No.9 who loves to score simple goals, which, again, is something we’ve lacked in the past.
Jovetic looks to have a great football brain, two nice feet and a lovely touch, so I can’t wait to see how he goes. And Fernandinho gives us legs in midfield. I love Gareth Barry and will forever respect him after the job he’s done at our place, but those legs were shaking at times last season.
Every United fan I talk to laments the fact that you haven’t signed a central midfielder since Hargreaves in 1932. If you could pick one, who would it be?
ZAC: Moyes appears unable to find the central midfielder he wants, which is why he’s looking at Fellaini. Reportedly. That would make it seem like there are few midfielders on the market, but I’m not sure about that. We’ve been known to be interested in Fabregas, Cabaye, Modric and Fellaini. All four have links to the Premier League and, as a result, all four are players Moyes knows well. There was also Thiago, of course, but he’s so unique that the point stands anyway (am I one of the “hysterical” United fans you complained about on Twitter during the peak of the Thiago thing? I must have been). Regardless, it doesn’t matter even if, actually, Moyes has looked further than we think. There are bound to be names we don’t know about. But what’s important is that with those four names so prominent, we have fans choosing their favourites … out of those four. There’s been a lot of choosing – and not just on Twitter – where someone would say “if we don’t get Fabregas, I won’t mind Cabaye”, or something. In truth, there are loads – loads! – of midfielders if you look long enough. There are options. In Germany. In Spain. In Argentina and Japan and Ghana. All without links to the Premier League, all potentially very good. So. After a lot of thought, and with all of the above considered, I would quite like Marouane Fellaini at Manchester United.
(Fabregas and Thiago are no longer on the market, you see, while Cabaye … I suppose I won’t mind him too much.)
ROB: And where do you stand on Rooney?
ZAC: Rooney’s an interesting one. Not actually *interesting*, but interesting. As in, I don’t know what to think. Obviously I want him out. But where to? Chelsea? No. Arsenal? Maybe not. And, ha! He’s a very useful player, and I’m afraid someone like Chelsea will remind us of the fact next season. We can replace him, of course, either with another goal-getter, or a tricky winger who creates and scores himself or a presence in central-midfield. Perhaps a Spanish presence. Basically another good player. We can sign all our favourites and I’d still be concerned about City and Chelsea, especially if the latter had Rooney in their team who’d, of course, make them better. Heck, I might be prepared to keep him just to keep them away. Nah. Probably not. Maybe. Real Madrid should take him, I think. I hope. Please. Take him. But not you, Chelsea.
If Rooney were a City player, and was for ten years, and asked to leave on two separate occasions, how would you respond?
ROB: I’d probably dislike him and want him to leave. It doesn’t matter how good the player is, when they do that it affects things. Look at Tevez for us. No player has had as big an impact at City in recent years as he had. The year we won the FA Cup, in particular, he dragged us through so many games, but when he did what he did in Munich and said he wanted to leave it ruined things.
The thing I find most odd about Rooney is this: United fans (God love ‘em) have a brilliant tradition of celebrating their former players. All you have to do at United is go there, play well, respect the club and the fans, and you’ll be remembered forever. You can dine out at Old Trafford until the day you die. How Rooney has gone there with the talent he’s got and ruined it I’ll never know.
ZAC: Anyway. Change of subject. How much better is Zabaleta than Rafael, do you think? I think it’s pretty close, but Blues don’t seem to agree.
ROB: I think Rafael is the most improved defender in the Premier League over the last year, no question about that. He seemed to be struggling a little bit to me and then last season, boom, he hit form and was superb throughout. I am in no way going to suggest he isn’t an excellent player (he’s also five years younger than Zaba), but, for me, Zabaleta is the superior player. Stronger, better in possession and more reliable. For me, anyway.
With Zabaleta you also get an astonishing level of leadership. And not just in the shouting and chest beating sense, but in the way he plays. He leads by example. Genuinely, since he came to the club, I’ve never seen him shirk a challenge. It’s remarkable.
ZAC: Impressed with Pellegrini so far? Well, as much as you can gather from pre-season.
ROB: Difficult to say so early but if you’re pushing me then, yes, very. I’m not sure there are many managers who can say they did a job as impressive as the one he did at Villarreal. Truly, that is one of the great managerial stories of our time. He’s also in-keeping with our recent tradition of employing cool managers (Mark Hughes aside, obvs), so I’m chuffed to bits about that. The players clearly like him and he seems determined to play good football, which is important to me.
Go on then, which City player would you most like to have at United?
ZAC: I’ve thought about this a lot over the years. First it was David Silva and Yaya Toure, then Vincent Kompany, then Nastasic. Let’s say Toure. He’s pretty great and I’ve also forgotten Nastasic’s first name. You’ve got to love a midfielder who seems so in control. You’ve got to love a midfielder. I want a midfielder. But, no, you guys are lucky to have a player like that.
ROB: Who’s the best: Stam, Rio or Vidic?
ZAC: Jaap Stam was fantastic, and I adored him, but only fantastic for three years. If you want to know who I think has been the best defender for Manchester United – not the best defender out of those three in general – I’d say Ferdinand. Vidic was an absolute bargain, of course, but if you put transfer fees aside and focus on performances, I think Ferdinand just edges it. But I might not think that tomorrow.
ROB: How good was Paul Scholes?
ZAC: Amazing. There’s nothing to dislike: he’s hilariously shy, has asthma and his eyesight has got increasingly worse. And yet, time and time again, he was the most expressive player on the field, the one who would keep going – and the understated way in which he carried himself meant he could conserve his energy, perform well for 90 minutes (nudge: and score a late header) – and, best of all, he could spot a pass like so few others. I miss him already.
Which United player would you have, then, if any?
ROB: I’d have van Persie. I think he’s an unbelievable player. I could not for the life of me understand those United and City fans who were saying they didn’t want him last summer when the chase for his signature was on. I mean, what more do you want? Left foot, right foot, no.9, no.10, free-kicks, corners – he can do everything and he does it with class.
Other than him, I’d probably say Vidic, who I have so much respect for, or Kagawa, who I think is going to have a very good season. He’s one of those lovely players who you only have to watch for 2 minutes to know how good he is. Great brain, great vision and nice feet.
ZAC: Favourite City player over the years? I personally liked it when you re-signed Paul Dickov.
ROB: Favourite City player is tough. I got my first season ticket in ’94 and didn’t miss a home match for about 15 years. That team had a real impact on me. Beagrie, Walsh, Rosler and Quinn were my favourites – I just loved that side. We played some top football.
Since then, Dunne is a big one for me. We had some dire times but he was always a player we could be proud of. Brilliant. Just brilliant.
Kinkladze was another. I remember his goal against Southampton – at half-time we all crowded round a portable television in the bars at Maine Road to watch it over and over again. It was one of the most exhilarating things I’ve seen on a football pitch. I became friends with Kinkladze years later when Keegan was in charge. His agent ran a pub in Cheshire that I worked at and he would come in every day. He didn’t much bother with me first few times we met but when he found out I was going to Leicester away he suddenly became very interested. As did his agent who wanted me to get a campaign going to re-sign him! Weird or what.