This is episode two of a wider series. To start at episode one, click here.
“All the things she said, all the things she said, running through my head, running through my head. All the things she said, all the things she said, running through my head, running through my head.”
A Portuguese teenager with awful teeth but incredible hair swaggers into the United dressing room for the first time.
“Who’s this w*nker?” mumbles captain Roy Keane, under his breath.
Welcome to Manchester United, Cristiano Ronaldo.
George Bond has his feet under his office desk, so to speak, but does not quite have command of the Old Trafford dressing room just yet.
An awkward silence falls in the room as Paul Scholes switches off the radio, right at the moment the gaffer follows the Portuguese wonderkid through the door. Scholesy has his signature ‘resting disgust’ face on, as a click silences the sound of Phil Neville’s favourite jam, from Russian pop sensations, t.A.T.u.
Phil is crestfallen. “These girls are destined for big things” the enthusiastic full-back always says.
The Croydon-born George Bond has dealt with his fair share of footballer egos managing at Dartford, but nothing like the player power that is starting to take grip of the game, especially in the top flights of Europe.
Bond’s gravelly voice punctures the silence.
“Boys. Pre-season has been average at best. We’ve got Arsenal in the Community Shield first, and we need to show these mugs who’s boss.”
He isn’t wrong. About pre-season form at least.
Enniskellen-born backup goalkeeper Roy Carroll now thinks he’s spurring on his teammates, as he rises to his feet on the back of George Bond’s sentiments and encourages the dressing room with a long but speedily delivered monologue.
Unfortunately no one in the room can understand his thick Northern Irish accent.
Kléberson’s nerves get the better of him and he starts clapping excitedly midway through. Rio Ferdinand clips the Brazilian round the ear, then points at Roy Carroll, still mid-rant, by this point foaming at the mouth.
Recruitment for Manchester United in pre-season has been laboured. Despite being reigning Premier League champions, players haven’t exactly been lining up waiting to sign on the dotted line.
The Dartford Hardman also had to kindly tell a couple of clubs to “do one” when it came to keeping a hold of England right back and staunch one-club man Gary Neville. He’s not going anywhere.
We are back in the dressing room and Cristiano has nervously perched himself beside the locker with Diego Forlán’s face on it. The underwhelming Uruguayan wasn’t the only player shown the door this summer, leaving a dressing room seat empty.
But two new faces have joined Manchester United in the first wave of the post-Sir Alex era.
Despite playing for United’s bitter, yet skint rivals Leeds United, Alan Smith moves to Old Trafford for £15million. The move was rumoured in the media for quite some time, and it looks like Smith might line up alongside Ruud van Nistelrooy in a new-look strike partnership.
The other new face is Porto’s Ricardo Carvalho. Having just won the UEFA Cup with the Portuguese giants, the centre back chose to wear the red of Manchester instead of the blue and white of Porto in this season’s Champions League. A low-risk move for the 25-year old that Jose Mourinho was seemingly happy to part with for a tiny £1.8million.
We hear that Bond’s backroom team are working round the clock on further potential deals, but there is nothing concrete to report as yet.
The strongest rumour links United with Leverkusen’s superstar defender Lúcio, but we hear that work permit conversations are challenging.
In other transfer news: Manchester City sign public enemy number one Alpay (no surprise), Arsenal have decided to foreshadow their destiny by opting for Glasgow Rangers’ 21-year old midfielder Mikel Arteta. Olof Mellberg has joined Chelsea for £4.4million, as the first signing of the Abramovich era.
Oh. That happened too.
It’s the Community Shield 2003. It’s Manchester United vs Arsenal. The curtain raiser that means absolutely nothing, but can really tell us everything about the season ahead.
The 22 players take the pitch and George Bond cuts a nervy silhouette on the sideline as he paces back and forward as the game kicks off, the capacity crowd in Cardiff erupting in applause.
It’s a tense affair early on, with chances at both ends.
Roy Keane is breathing fire from his nose, however, when Robert Pires lobs debutant American Tim Howard in the United goal on 42 minutes.
The only other notable chance in the first half came from elegant Frenchman Thierry Henry ghosting past Nicky Butt before smashing the bar with a long range drive.
Despite Nicky Butt’s impressive volleyed equaliser from a tight angle with 18 minutes to go, the match plays out an entire 120 before Bond’s Invisibles live up their nickname, and go missing when the penalty shoot-out occurs.
No glory today for Manchester United.
On his way off the field, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer gets mistaken for a child and is almost removed from the pitch by a steward. Eric Djemba Djemba takes the wrong turn in the tunnel and ends up in the car park with an angry mob of Red Devils fans. He doesn’t show up again until 48 hours later.
The era after Fergie may prove even more challenging than everyone thought.
Thanks for reading.