Football, as a game, is best felt in its little moments – a wonder goal, a super-sub impact, a tactical switch, sending off, referee making a blunder and so on. These little moments can have a great impact on a team. And probably, the climactic point of all is when a player scores in the dying minutes of the match to earn the victory for his side. It is a different feeling altogether, one that is hard to express in words.
It changes the mindset of the entire team. Under Sir Alex Ferguson, Manchester United made it a habit of scoring late. A lot of people tend to refer this trait as “down to luck” which certainly isn’t the case. Luck can favour you once, twice, thrice, for the sake of debate one or two more times, but when the same trait occurs year after year and for decades, it is down to something else other than luck – here, power and mental fortitude.
It lifts the confidence of the entire team. The players tend to believe in their ability, and when that happens, the team exceeds all expectations. In retrospection, one can say this could be the foundation on which Sir Alex managed to knock Liverpool off their perch.
Only time will tell whether United will win the Premier League title under Jose Mourinho or not but one thing is certain – United have found their swagger back. Mourinho has been able to create a positive vibe, a flow of energy, among the fans and everyone associated with the club. These are exciting times. United still have a long way to go, but at least the club is heading in the right direction.
Under Ferguson, watching United was fun. Victory and defeat are parts of the game, but there was this minimum expectation that United will go down fighting till the final whistle. There was probably no sight in sports as exhilarating as a United side chasing a game as you would know the last half-hour would be a one-sided traffic. A barrage of attack would come down the opposition end, and the relentless one-sided dominance would not stop (well, for most of the time) until United accomplish their mission.
That indomitable spirit was missing in the past few years, post Ferguson’s retirement. Neither David Moyes nor Louis van Gaal could re-create the aura that defined Manchester United.
Having won their opening two matches, Hull City played with a positive approach and having not conceded early on; they grew in confidence as the game progressed. Just when it looked like the new United boss will have to settle for a point, Marcus Rashford stepped up with a stellar cameo performance to score in the 92nd minute and seal three points for his side.
Wayne Rooney dodged past the Hull defender inside the box from the left and he placed the ball so well that all it needed was a poke from the young Englishman four yards out. Rooney hardly had any influence in the match, but his final pass proved to be the difference between a draw and a victory.
Rooney has come under fair criticism for his below-par performances so far. Many United fans have even voiced this opinion that Rooney is holding United back, and Mourinho should leave him out from the starting line-up or use him sparingly. At the same time, it needs only a moment of brilliance from a world class player like him to change the course of a game, and probably why Mourinho still trusts his skipper to deliver when it matters.
Rashford’s goal brings back the old memories of Federico Macheda’s winner against Aston Villa in 2008/09. That wonder ‘late’ goal from Macheda swung the title in United’s favour and while, here’s no title race at stake here (so early in the season), but seeing a young academy player netting the winner always gives a good feeling.
Scoring late, therefore, has become a symbol associated with United. It has become a tradition. Rashford’s goal not only signals the lurch in the fresh direction (fans already calling it Jose-time) but it brings back the old United aura with it.