It is on days like these that you understand why Sir Alex Ferguson refused to hand over the managerial reins at Manchester United. True, the job will always bring stress, such as Rio Ferdinand's early exit with a twisted left ankle, which will keep him out of Wednesday's Champions' League tie and puts his Premiership debut on Saturday in some doubt. But the good still far outweighs the bad. While neighbouring clubs such as Bury, Oldham, and Stockport were kicking off their Nationwide League campaigns in front of a few loyal fans, a packed Old Trafford saw yesterday's high-profile 2-0 friendly win over Argentina's Boca Juniors.
The fact that the game was in aid of Unicef helped swell the numbers, but you sense that the United faithful would turn out for pretty much any occasion. Not so yesterday's guest of honour, who is usually touring the world on behalf of Her Majesty's secret service. Wearing a home strip with the number 007 on his back, Roger Moore was paraded before kick-off. He was later presented with a cheque for the entire takings of the day. Needless to say the former James Bond star failed to keep eyebrows down when he clocked the total amassed.
The occasion may have been for the benefit of charity, but Manchester United's approach was competitive. Sir Alex aligned his best possible starting XI, with only the French goalkeeper, Fabien Barthez, missing through injury. England midfielder Paul Scholes was on the bench.
At the heart of defence, the home fans were given the first, and very short, glimpse of the new-look partnership of Laurent Blanc and Ferdinand. The pair were in total command of the Argentinian attackers, until injury forced Ferdinand's retirement on 25 minutes. Meanwhile, a rejuvenated Juan Sebastian Veron, and a much rested Roy Keane, marshalled the centre of midfield with great aplomb. Last season's constant criticism hurt Veron, but the South American seems determined to make his stay in England a successful one. He played in a deeper role yesterday, patrolling in front of the back four, and thus allowing Keane to make more penetrating runs through the middle.
What will happen when Scholes is fully fit remains to be seen but United looked balanced and after last season's chopping and changing, Sir Alex will be anxious to start with a much more settled side and formation. If this friendly is anything to go by, expect to see Beckham up and down the right flank, with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer supporting last season's top scorer, Ruud van Nistelrooy, in a classic 4-4-2.
It took the Dutchman all of 18 minutes to score his first goal, following excellent work from Beckham and Veron. The latter collected a delicate chip from the former, before clipping the ball over his opposite midfield number and then delivering a perfect pass to Van Nistelrooy on the edge of the box. One touch and a fortuitous bounce later, and the striker had scored a clever goal with his left foot. The second was even more emphatic, a low, rifled right-foot shot five minutes from the break.
The sight of United's No 10 scoring goals is nothing new, but there were visible changes in other departments of the team. Not only did the players look fitter, but there were also subtle variations in their play. The full-backs, for example, pushed up much higher than last season, while Beckham was given more freedom to roam inside. The bulk of these alterations have been credited to the new assistant manager, Carlos Queiroz. The Portuguese coach is said to have injected a freshness to training, bringing his own ideas and methods. Sir Alex has always insisted that, far from being a club in turmoil, United simply needed Latin influence. Samba football could reach the youth team next, as Sir Alex is still looking to appoint a Brazilian. The World Cup-winning manager, Felipe Scolari, is now available.
The friendly nature of yesterday's encounter was sullied when Carlos Alberto Tevez was sent off for elbowing, but the win in front of nearly 56,000 fans meant mission accomplished, for both United and Unicef agent Moore.
Manchester United 2 Boca Juniors 0
Van Nistelrooy 17, 41
Half-time 2-0 Attendance: 55,942
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