"He's one of us," Michael Carrick said of Wayne Rooney late on Saturday night, the quiet man conjuring words which felt a so much more effective plea for a return to the fold than the more rehearsed "grass is always greener" message trotted out for Rooney all summer.
There are signs – fragile ones, still – that Rooney feels like one of the band again. When he walked around the player/media mixed zone on his way out of the Liberty Stadium, after Manchester United's 4-1 win over Swansea City, he grinned and laughed in the direction of a few journalists, the shared joke being that both sides knew that him stopping to discuss United was out of the question. This felt a long way from the last time he was at odds with the game – when he marched, sullen and stony-faced, out of mixed zones at the 2010 South Africa World Cup, his professional and personal worlds combusting all around him.
Other evidence scrambles the sense of a rapprochement, like Rooney not joining goal celebrations after arriving as a 62nd-minute substitute, but the general impression is that David Moyes may have been right when he thought that if he could only get Rooney away from the external influences and in with the group then he could get him straight. Moyes manages men in the deftest ways. When the world wanted to talk about Robin van Persie before United swung out of South Wales, he reminded us of how he had managed Rooney as a teenager. Those were well weighed words. No cloying garlands but a nod to the man United think they can restore to the "world-class" bracket.
What a far remove all that seemed from Jose Mourinho, the Chelsea manager, whose garish public criticism of Victor Moses for returning late from international duty and transparent pitch for the lead headlines he duly won at the weekend, by claiming United have been second-rate champions, are precisely why United and Manchester City did not want him managing them. In another age and walk of life, they would have called Mourinho vulgar.
"That's his first soundbite of the season, isn't it? So we expect it," Rio Ferdinand said of Mourinho's talk, though what galled the United defender most of all was seeing his club being tipped to achieve nothing by writer after writer at the weekend. After Saturday's opener, the near unanimity that Chelsea – United's next opponents – or Manchester City are so much better may come to read like a collective amnesia about what Old Trafford actually possesses.
Ferdinand locates the premature talk of United's demise in a national desire to see them fail. "I think a lot of people expected [us to lose] – and wanted it, maybe. We've seen that from the vibe we've been getting all week. It's only one game. We're not saying we're going to win the league or anything like that [but] you don't appreciate it when people… not so much don't give you credit as don't put you in the position you should be. I think, being champions, you warrant maybe a little bit more but shouldn't expect things."
Moyes, who does not expect goalkeeper David de Gea to be impeded from playing by the bruise to the shin he took on Saturday, was more sanguine about all that. "Strangely enough, I wasn't nervous but I was apprehensive," he said after an afternoon of fan anthems which first reflected the fact that this was someone else's team – "So come on David Moyes, play like Fergie's boys" – and ended with him being taken to heart, with "David Moyes' red-and-white army". That noise was heartening, he said. "Yeah, it was; it was great. I think it does [feel strange] a little bit. I'm still settling in as well, it's still new to me. The job's still new to me."
Moyes has never gone in for the Mourinho kind of media machinations, even though he has fought with players and once squared up to greet Roberto Mancini with a Glasgow kiss. He knows defeating Swansea 4-1 is something and yet nothing because it will only take defeat to Chelsea to bring out the doomsayers. "Maybe; maybe so," he said to the notion that he might one day come to look upon this win as more significant than he did now. "I'm sort of just getting on with a day's work, really. You know, if I had lost today then would the questions have been a great deal different from you boys… No…? So there you go!"
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