These big showpiece FA events are about as much fun as watching a ‘classic’ (e.g. a repeat) edition of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire and generally about as memorable as the last thing Justin Bieber tweeted (incidentally his last tweet was this: “WE ON A BREAK!! #restandrelaxation – #unlessIhitthestudio” – I’m sure historians everywhere will be scrabbling to note that down for posterity).
Today’s Community Shield match between Manchester United and Wigan Athletic at Wembley Stadium wasn’t much of an exception. A few old guys (who on this occasion looked a bit like the Chuckle Brothers) shuffle past the players offering weak handshakes, presumably just before being ushered to a euthanasia booth somewhere. Then the national anthem (that po-faced hymnal to our pointless monarchy) is sung, not by the fans, but by some opera singer who thinks she’s at the Super Bowl. If you happen to be on Twitter when one of these things starts brace yourself for the only actual legacy of the Olympics: a barrage of somnolent “jokes” about when Emeli Sandé will turn up to belt out that bloody Professor Green song.
The actual match was decided by two goals from Robin Van Persie, underlining just how important he will be to ‘Man Yoo’ as they get ready for a post-Rooney future. The first, a languid header sent past Scott Carson just inside the right-hand post, was a typical example of his superb technical ability and his ghostly accuracy. The second which came just before the hour, was a scrappier affair. After some neat build-up play from United, Van Persie received the ball on the edge of the Wigan area, dropped a shoulder and shrugged the ball past Carson with the help of a deflection off James Perch.
Looking at the starting teams I had a masochists excitement when I saw that Phil Jones and Grant Holt would be having what can be described as a fugly-off with each other. Such a clash would not be out of place on a mud-sodden battlefield during the Wars of The Roses, given the mutual, lumbering Englishness of their styles. Alas the promised confrontation never really arrived, principally because Wigan (unlike Holt’s former team Norwich) have not yet adjusted their game to get the best out of the big lad.
New look Wigan are a very different prospect from the silkily doomed side managed by Roberto Martinez last term. Owen Coyle is building a side as British as getting savagely glassed on a freezing August evening in Leeds City Centre after a big night of binge drinking. His approach is typified by summer signings like Holt, Crainey, Perch, Carson and Barnett. Pick of the bunch is young James McClean, freshly arrived from Sunderland, an Irish pugilist who specializes in running in straight lines and pushing people, qualities which ought to lead to great success for him in English football’s second tier.
In fact, Wigan’s best chance of the game was created by McClean, who fired the ball dangerously across the six yard box after Smalling misjudged a long pass from Crainey. The cross/shot couldn’t be met by Holt, when only a touch would have plundered a cheap goal for the Latics. Set-pieces, long balls and looping crosses, nothing too fancy for Coyle and Wigan.
United’s win was merely whelming. 39-year-old Ryan Giggs started here, still astonishingly pert and wiry, still urbane in his passing and movement, still inevitably amongst the best players on the pitch almost every time he plays. Ostensibly this is good for United, but it is also symptomatic of their weaknesses in midfield that their best player in that area (beige pass-o-meter Michael Carrick aside) will be 40 in November. It is actually difficult to imagine United not having a crap midfield, and even more difficult to imagine a player as accomplished as Cesc Fabregas taking touchline orders from new assistant coach Phil Neville.
These pronounced weaknesses in midfield are a gnawing problem that David Moyes will have thought about long before the short period on either side of half-time when Wigan’s tinpot midfield was on top of United’s.
With the amount of opprobrium and obloquy that surely lies in wait for Moyes this season I almost expected his shirt to be blood red, prepared for all the knives and arrows that will be aimed at him, waiting for the first inevitable slip-up. As soon as that first fuck up comes I fully expect some clichéd American army guy (played by Stephan Lang) to appear at any moment just to fatuously utter in Moyes’ ear: “Davey, you ain’t in Kansas anymore.”
Right now he is the mini-Ferg, the diet-Ferg – same stripey tie, same gum but will there be the same results, the same relentless ability to win that characterized real-Ferg? A look of distinct discomfort was briefly visible on Moyes’ face as he lifted his first trophy, before he returned to looking like a slightly healthier Malcolm Tucker.