It was a sight that symbolised football’s eternally changing order. In Old Trafford’s East Stand, just behind the goal, two Manchester United fans were sporting Marouane Fellaini wigs while wearing Shinji Kagawa shirts.
The thrill that greeted the arrival of Japan’s finest footballer from Borussia Dortmund seems very far away. He was not even on the team sheet to face Crystal Palace on a day in which Fellaini received a standing ovation merely for trotting on to the pitch.
The Belgian with a hairstyle that would not look out of place in any Philadelphia soul studio circa 1975 was one of £100m of mostly deadline-day signings who made their bow in the Premier League.
None had a simpler beginning. When he came on, Palace were a goal and a man down. They had not taken a point from Old Trafford in 24 years and they were not about to start now. Fellaini mostly confined himself to short, neat passes in a 2-0 win without the searing pressure he can expect should he start United’s next league fixture – at Manchester City.
On a day that commemorated the 50th anniversary of George Best’s United debut it was as well to remember that beginnings are not everything.
Patrice Evra made a horrendous start, not against a neutered Crystal Palace, but at Eastlands in 2006. Sir Alex Ferguson stationed him next to Mikael Silvestre who may have been hopelessly out of form but who in Ferguson’s view at least spoke French. So does Catherine Deneuve.
Spurs’ Christian Eriksen looks the kind of player who seems born for the limelight. Like James McCarthy, who made his debut for Everton in the cauldron of a successful rearguard action in the 1-0 win over Chelsea, Eriksen plotted his route to the top carefully.
McCarthy turned down Liverpool in favour of Wigan while Eriksen, who at 16 was offered terms by Chelsea and Barcelona, chose the famed Ajax academy, De Toekomst. Both had the same reasoning. They would get more minutes on the pitch more quickly.
This may be why both men slotted into their roles so effortlessly. Eriksen’s Spurs team-mates were astonished he could make the impact he did in the 2-0 victory over Norwich after just three training sessions and his manager, Andre Villas-Boas, has already compared him to Wesley Sneijder. McCarthy had the advantage of playing alongside not an out-of-sorts Silvestre but Gareth Barry, who was in the mood to prove to Manchester City that he may have been let go too soon.
Nobody doubted that Mesut Ozil, perhaps English football’s most compelling import since Osvaldo Ardiles, would shine, although the way Paolo Di Canio set up the Sunderland midfield was an open invitation.
Ozil fulfils the law set out by Jorge Valdano when he was Real Madrid’s sporting director. If, statistically, three out of five transfers fail, then it is as well to spend on those who will guarantee success – world-class footballers in their prime. Yes, they will cost but they will be worth it.
Assessing Samuel Eto’o’s worth has always been difficult not least because the man was until recently the highest paid footballer on earth. He may have swapped playing for one secretive Russian oligarch for another but approaching Anzhi Makhachkala’s stadium in the pitted, bullet-strewn streets of Dagestan he would have had more than the single police motor-cyclist that the Chelsea team bus had for protection as it nosed its way towards Goodison Park.
It remains to be seen whether a man who has won three European Cups and earned £35m last year retains his hunger but, in spite of three squandered opportunities, Jose Mourinho’s verdict was clear: “Samuel is still a killer.”
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