David who? Juan Seba quien? Fabien qui? The stars of old may not yet be forgotten but, judging by yesterday's demonstration by the new-look Red Devils and their Portuguese midfielder Ronaldo in particular, the shadows of the departed will not be looming over Old Trafford for too long.
The Premiership champions began the defence of their title in confident style, as Bolton Wanderers, not to mention any suggestion that Sir Alex Ferguson's side might struggle without Goldenballs and friends, were brushed aside in emphatic fashion. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was excellent on the right of midfield, Ryan Giggs took a majestic free-kick and Cristiano Ronaldo made a wonderfully exciting start to his English career, wearing the celebrated No 7 shirt. No wonder Sir Alex is determined not to look back. "Ronaldo had a terrific debut," the manager acknowledged after the game. "He changed the game and the fans have gone home with a new hero."
Fresh season, same old fearsome boss. Sir Alex has not been afraid to wield the axe this summer, selling two of his most expensive assets, David Beckham and Juan Sebastian Veron, while relegating his multi-garlanded goalkeeper to the reserves. Fabien Barthez's absence aside, pre-match thoughts were reserved for the memory of Jimmy Davis, one of Manchester United's rising young stars, who was killed in a car crash in the early hours of last Saturday. The official unveiling of the Brazilian World Cup winner Kleberson, who signed his five-year contract in front of 67,000 fans, was a helpful distraction.
Both teams were still finding their feet when Jay-Jay Okocha embarked on a trademark run at goal that was only marred by his wayward shot. It was the scare the champions needed, as Paul Scholes and Roy Keane combined well to release Solskjaer on the right. One touch and a wicked drive later told you exactly why Ferguson felt he no longer needed You Know Who to patrol the right of his midfield. Only a brilliant tip-over by the Bolton keeper Jussi Jaaskelainen prevented the Scot from proving his critics wrong within a mere 10 minutes of the new campaign.
Not to be outdone on his home debut, United's new shot-stopper Tim Howard produced an equally acrobatic save from Kevin Nolan's cross-cum-lob moments later. United were playing the neater football, but Bolton were producing chances on the break. Their best opportunity of the first half fell to Kevin Davies, but he was leaning back when lining up a shot and the ball went sailing over the bar.
Then, with 35 minutes gone, came the moment the crowd had been waiting for. Ruud van Nistelrooy was fouled 22 yards out, prompting an enquiry as to who would take the resulting free-kick. Ryan Giggs beat Scholes to the ball and then promptly dispatched an unstoppable left-foot curler into Jaaskelainen's net via the inside of the post. "David who?" you could hear the fans whisper. "Ryan used to take them when he was younger," was Ferguson's pointed comment.
The second half was ticking along when the noise suddenly amplified around Old Trafford. "There's only one Ronaldo," the home faithful chanted when the 18-year-old Portuguese starlet emerged from the bench. The song was as much a welcome to the most expensive teenager in British football history, as a cry of defiance to Ronaldinho, the Brazilian who spurned United's summer advances in favour of Barcelona.
This was only a 30-minute cameo, but the £12.75m man showed enough invention and trickery to suggest that he might be a crowd favourite for many years to come. His incessant runs at the Bolton defence were as direct as they were clever. The most incisive of them, after 72 minutes, forced Nolan to bring him down inside the box. The only disappointment was that Van Nistelrooy then saw his penalty saved, although the striker made amends when he scored United's fourth in the last three minutes. "The final score line was harsh," the Bolton manager Sam Allardyce said. "But we should have defended better after the penalty miss."
Instead, Bolton were run ragged by Ronaldo, as he burst to the by-line and delivered an inch-perfect cross for Van Nistelrooy at the far post. The Dutchman's volley was parried by Jaaskelainen, but Giggs was on hand to tap in the rebound for his second of the day. Not quite an assist for Ronaldo, but close.
It was now party time at Old Trafford, as another of the new boys, midfielder Eric Djemba-Djemba, was brought on for a taste of the action. The Cameroon international's home debut was no more than five minutes old when Scholes pounced on some lacklustre Bolton defending, before rounding the keeper and slotting home for United's third. Job done for the champions; and point made by their manager.
Manchester United 4 Bolton Wanderers 0
Giggs 35, 74, Scholes 77, Van Nistelrooy 87
Half-time: 1-0 Attendance: 67,647Reuse content