What better way to mark your Manchester United debut than with a goal at the Theatre of Dreams, followed by a standing ovation as you leave the Old Trafford pitch?
Henrik Larsson couldn’t have hoped for much more from his first United appearance. The Swedish legend had an instant impact at Old Trafford, showing early on a great understanding with Wayne Rooney, and a great eye for goal, even at the ripe old age of 35.
With so much of United’s praise this season falling on the shoulders of Cristiano Ronaldo, Wayne Rooney, and to a lesser extent, Nemanja Vidic, It may very well be United’s old guard that become the difference makers in what will hopefully become a championship winning campaign. Ronaldo in particular showed signs of complacency yesterday, as he is too often prone to do. Although he has been arguably the Premiership’s premier player this season, too often did he dwell on the ball, and fail to capitalise on opportunities on Sunday.
Wayne Rooney was worryingly off his game against Aston Villa, failing to score on two clear-cut occasions, and repeatedly being let down by of all things, his usually impeccable touch. However, where Rooney can falter in form, he compensates in heart and effort, memorably tracking back as he so often does to win back the ball and begin another flowing United attack. This is where Ronaldo can improve his game, instead of looking disappointed at the referee after losing the ball, some old fashioned English graft, so inherent in Rooney, should be added to the Portuguese star’s talents.
And so with faltering young stars, enter the old guard to steady the ship, with typically outstanding performances from Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs already this season, it seems Larsson and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer are not ready to be forgotten either. Each bagging a goal to send United into the fourth round of the FA Cup, the pair, 35 and pushing 34 respectively, brushed aside doubts of age with two goals emblematic of goalscorers of their calibre.
The exit of Ruud van Nistelrooy in the summer was a major loss in terms of goals per season, and Louis Saha has done much to erase the doubts following the Dutchman’s departure. But with Saha’s unfortunate tendency to spend too much time with the physio creeping back in, it could well be United’s elder strikers who provide the vital goals for United to push on to the Premiership title.
United have developed an excellent first team squad, with some exceptional individuals moulding together to achieve an outstanding first half to the season. With the addition of Larsson’s jewel to United’s crown, and the possible January arrival of Owen Hargreaves, the United players may well be singing, “We’ve got our trophy back” come May, as they did in 2003.