Let’s be honest. Despite the fact David Moyes had signed a six-year deal with Manchester United following the departure of Alex Ferguson, no one truly believed the former Everton boss would see out even half his contract.
But can anyone truly say they expected the ripples of Moyes’s eight-month stint to stretch five years on and two managers later?
However, on Wednesday night at the Juventus Stadium, the ripples could be seen. Moyes’s two signings from the 13/14 season, Juan Mata and Marouane Fellaini, stepped up to the side-line in the 79th minute – they were the current manager Jose Mourinho’s roll of the dice to get United back into the game against Juventus.
Rather fittingly, they replaced Ander Herrera and Alexis Sanchez – one Louis Van Gaal signing and one Mourinho signing. Such is the wheel of life; after a while, we tend to end up where we started.
But they worked, just like Moyes’s appointment at Manchester United didn’t. In those final 10 minutes, Mata scored a free-kick and Juve’s Alex Sandro directed the ball into his own net to give United an unforeseen victory.
The win topped what has been a steady rise back to form by United. Slowly but surely, the Jose-Pogba rift died away. Slowly but surely, Anthony Martial, the man who wanted away in the summer, has found his way back into the side and is in tremendous goal-scoring form. Slowly but indeed surely, the results have improved.
This is not to say United are definite candidates for major silverware this season, but the ever-used adage “true champions find a way to win without playing well” has not been much heard in conjunction with their recent performances, most of which have seen United come from behind to force the result.
Whether this is a media bias against Mourinho, or simply a lack of willingness from those whose voices and words are generally heard and read by many to admit that United can challenge for major honours this season.
What is interesting, however, is the time at which this side, and the manager, have suddenly bounced back and are now generating more positive than negative headlines.
Manchester City and Pep Guardiola await United this Sunday. City have scored 23 goals in their last 6 games. That’s more than what Southampton, Newcastle and Crystal Palace combined have scored in the Premier League all season.
United’s defence may not have improved alongside their up-turn in form, with their last clean sheet being the stale 0-0 against Valencia in the Champions League at the beginning of October.
But the positive to take is that Mourinho, after constant chopping, changing, adjusting and tweaking, has now appeared to have found his preferred back-line, and while it may not be the most secure and perhaps not even what a lot of fans would consider a back four containing the best defensive components United have at their disposal (with the total exclusion of Eric Bailly coming to mind), it still means the manager has the trust now of more players than he did at the beginning of the season.
These comeback victories and draws in the last month or so are not a newfound thing under Mourinho at United. It was at the Etihad last season that United pulled off perhaps the greatest and most satisfying of comebacks, coming from 2-0 down to beat City 3-2. While the victory was somewhat bitter-sweet, with United’s city rivals having one hand on the title anyway despite the loss, it doesn’t mean you can’t relish the sweetness.
The Manchester Derby this Sunday may not provide such dramatics. Or it may. As with any big derby fixture, a result, a team’s performance on the day, can’t be foreseen with any great confidence.
It always helps however when both sides are in form. But not only are Man United in good form just as their rivals; Mourinho also seems to have cheered up a great deal. The Special One has turned into the Smiley One.
The Portuguese cupped an ear at the Juventus supporters in the moments after United secured what could turn out to be their most important win this season. The question followed; is this disrespectful?
Some fans might see it that way. Others, perhaps those who have found some faith in the manager once more, may simply see a man relishing the sweetness.