It’s been a good minute hasn’t it? We’re back nonetheless with Episode 4 of the Jersey Gallery! I go back to my roots in tonight’s instalment; my first love in football terms: Manchester United! Of the litany of United shirts in my armoury; I went with the shirt belonging to their most successful season in the post-Fergie years: the 2016-17 home shirt…
THE STORY OF THE SEASON:
If you are a Manchester United fan, you will recall the summer of 2016 being filled with excitement and uncertainty. The 2015=16 season ended with the FA Cup being captured, however in spite of a first trophy since the 2013 FA Community Shield; a 5th place finish, on goal difference behind Manchester City, meant that the club would be playing Europa League football again in 2016-17. With City announcing that Pep Guardiola would be taking over the reins ahead of the new season, and Antonio Conte taking over at Chelsea; the United brass responded by appointing Jose Mourinho. The self-anointed ‘Special One’ was a free agent having been dismissed by Chelsea in December 2015, and while the move had long been touted, the manner with which his arrival come to pass was a tad questionable given that Louis Van Gaal was relieved of his duties after 2 seasons, just 24 hours after guiding the club to their FA Cup triumph over Crystal Palace on May 21st. So Mourinho was drafted in officially on May 26th, and the Portuguese and Ed Woodward got to work in the transfer market to best equip the club for the upcoming campaign. The first arrival of the new regime would be Eric Bailly who arrived from Villarreal, however business really and truly picked up on July 1st, when the acquisition of Zlatan Ibrahimovic was announced! The legendary Swede reunited with Mourinho after their 1 year relationship which they enjoyed at Inter Milan during the 2008-09 season, however, in spite of his incredible goal scoring record across 4 major European leagues, and his free transfer fee; questions were still being asked whether at his age, he could excel in the Premier League. 5 days later, the exciting Henrikh Mkhitaryan was signed from Borussia Dortmund, however his signing was somewhat overshadowed by the rumours that the club would be looking to resign a former academy graduate: Paul Pogba. On July 10th, Pogba would be on the losing side of the 2016 European Championship final with France, from there-on-out, the summer headlines would be dominated by the nuances of the potential transfer from Juventus to Manchester United of the French midfielder, before the day finally came where the ‘PogBack’ hashtag took flight; August 8th it would be precisely, as Pogba returned to United, some 4 years after leaving on a free transfer. United would have to stump up a (then) world record transfer fee of £89.3 million to re-acquire his services.
24 hours earlier, the Mourinho-era would get off to the perfect start on the field, as the club defeated 2015-16 Premier League champions: Leicester City in the Community Shield, with new man: Ibrahimovic scoring the winning goal at Wembley in a 2-1 win. The Premier League season began on August 14th for ‘the Red Devils’, away against Bournemouth; a fixture that they infamously lost in the previous season. There would be no such repeat as a glorious Sunday afternoon on the south-coast saw: Juan Mata, Wayne Rooney and Zlatan Ibrahimovic get on the score-sheet in a 3-1 win to end the first round of games in 1st place. 5 days later, they’d avenge another defeat from the previous season in the form of a 2-0 home win over Southampton, with Ibrahimovic scoring both goals. 9 days later, they’d brave the pouring rain away against Hull City to pull out a last minute 1-0 victory over the newly promoted side, to sit joint top with 9 points ahead of the international break, and crucially, the Manchester Derby on September 10th. Regrettably, Mourinho would fall against his nemesis Guardiola in a 2-1 defeat at Old Trafford; a result that began a torrid September for the club, where they would split 3 wins and 3 defeats in their 6 games played that month. If September was inconsistent, then October would be frustrating, as the team won none of their 4 league games, and while they were able to hold a red-hot Liverpool at bay at Anfield on October 17th, they were brutally beaten 4-0 by Chelsea at Stamford Bridge on October 23rd. Fortunately, they would see off Manchester City in the EFL Cup 4th Round on October 26th, while a 4-1 win over Fenerbahce would also come their way in the Europa League on October 20th. Any hope however of winning the title were likely dashed by the end of October, given that the club sat in 8th place, and with just 15 points on the board after 10 games, they were already 8 points behind the joint top trio of: City, Arsenal and Liverpool.
The defeat against Chelsea would begin a 25 match unbeaten league run, sadly, the run would be the most uninspired 25 match unbeaten streak in history, as this story will reveal. November began with a defeat in the Europa League away against Fenerbahce, however the club would get back into the winning column in the league with a 3-0 win over Swansea City; a game that saw Pogba score his first league goal for the club in his second stint, while Ibrahimovic got back in the scoring column, after going 6 games without finding the back of the net. The inconsistent head would rear itself again however, with 3 consecutive draws unfolding as we moved into the final month of 2016. The end of November would see United progress to the League Cup semi-final after a 4-1 thrashing of West Ham United, while passage to the Europa League knock-out stages was also achieved. The December 8th victory over Zorya Luhansk would inspire United’s finest run of the season as fine December saw maximum points collected in the league with 5 straight league wins, as they clawed their way back into 6th place with 36 points on the board at the halfway stage of the season.
2017 began with a 2-0 win over West Ham United, a win that moved them within 3 points of the top 4, and then on January 7th, Reading were beaten 4-0 in the 3rd round of the FA Cup, whilst the 1st Leg of their EFL Cup semi-final with Hull City yielded a 2-0 win, thus bringing their winning run to 9 games in all competitions. This would set the stage for a huge Super Sunday at Old Trafford against Liverpool, where Zlatan Ibrahimovic continued his Cantona like effect for club, as he netted an 84th minute equaliser in a 1-1 draw with their fierce rivals. 6 days later, their goal scoring woes would resurface against Stoke City, however the game would be a landmark for one Wayne Rooney, where after losing his place in the side, the Manchester United captain would score an outrageous 94th minute free-kick to seal a 1-1 draw at the Bet365 Stadium; a goal that made him the club’s highest ever scorer with his 250th goal for the club. A first League Cup Final appearance since 2010 would be secured as they survived a 1-0 defeat in the 2nd Leg away to Hull City, before Wigan Athletic were swatted 4-0 in the FA Cup 4th Round; a game notable for being Bastian Schweinsteiger’s last game for the club. The month would also see Louis Van Gaal signings: Morgan Schneiderlin and Memphis Depay moved on to Everton and Lyon respectively, as the club continued to distance themselves from the Dutchman and his body of work at the club between 2014-16.
Hull City would play United for the fourth and final time that season on February 1st, where the game ended 0-0 at Old Trafford, however, wins over Leicester City and Watford would be United’s only other league action that month due to their FA Cup and League Cup Final participation. The first of those cup assignments would be away against Blackburn Rovers in the FA Cup 5th Round, where a 2-0 win saw them pitted against Chelsea in the FA Cup quarter final. Speaking of cups, the Europa League resumed in mid-February, and Saint-Etienne were beaten 4-0 over 2 legs to set up a Last 16 clash with Rostov. The high point of the month would no doubt be the thrilling 3-2 League Cup Final triumph against Southampton, where again, Zlatan Ibrahimovic would be the saviour, as his 87th minute delivered the second piece of silverware of the Mourinho-era!
An unsavoury return to PL action came on March 4th where the club could only muster a 1-1 draw at home to Bournemouth, not only due to the dropped points, but it was an afternoon where Ibrahimovic would miss a penalty, and find himself involved in a nasty pair of incidents with Bournemouth’s Tyrone Mings; where fortunately both men would avoid any punishment from the FA. Wins would be hard to come by as the fixture list piled up with a draw coming away to Rostov in the Europa League, before being eliminated out of the FA Cup by Chelsea on March 13th. The month would end with a narrow win, and elimination of Rostov, as well as a 3-1 win away against Middlesbrough. Draws would continue being the order of the day as games with: West Bromwich, Everton and Anderlecht all ended as stalemates, however wins did come their way in the league against: Sunderland, Chelsea and Burnley in the league, followed by a war of attrition victory away against Anderlecht to reach the semi final of the Europa League. The latter contest would be draw the full extent of the squad’s reserves with both: Marcos Rojo and Zlatan Ibrahimovic both having their season’s cruelly ended with injuries sustained during that contest. The limitations of the squad would reveal themselves in draws with Manchester City and Swansea as United made up for their games in hand.
Their Europa League semi-final with Celta Vigo ended with Marcus Rashford scoring the only goal in a tense win at Old Trafford, and with 4 games of the league season remaining, United still had a chance of making the top 4, and would next put their 25 match unbeaten league run against 5th place Arsenal, where victory would have seen them leapfrog ‘the Gunners’ into 5th place. Interestingly, Jose Mourinho would almost concede any chance of finishing in the top 4 in favour of going the whole hog in the Europa League, and it would prove ominous, as Arsenal ended the streak with a 2-0 win, with what was also Arsene Wenger’s first league win over Jose Mourinho. 4 days later in the 2nd Leg of the Europa League semi-final with Celta Vigo; United would narrowly reach their first European final since 2011 as they battled to a 1-1 draw in Galicia. In the final game at White Hart Lane; an inspired Tottenham Hotspur would defeat United 2-1, ending their mathematic chances of finishing in the top 4. In their final league game, United would comfortably defeat Crystal Palace 2-0 at Old Trafford with young Josh Harrop, and Paul Pogba scoring, as they prepared for their Europa League final against Ajax 5 days later. It would take just 18 minutes for Pogba to open the scoring at the Friends Arena, before Henrikh Mkhitaryan scored to seal a 2-0 win, and the first ever Europa League/UEFA Cup in the club’s history!
MY MEMORIES OF THE SHIRT:
I always looked at this shirt as Adidas’ take on the 2007-09 home shirt made by Nike, where the shirt was all red. While of course, the Adidas shirt featured the 3-stripes down the side panels of the body, the shirt featured very little else by way of accents. The discerning this about this shirt was the half and half cut of the shirt, where the right half of the shirt and left sleeve are a darker shade of red compared to their counterpart sides. Following on from Adidas’ brilliant first shirt of their second stint as Manchester United’s kit supplier, I personally loved how this shirt differed so much, carried an identity of its own, yet was still just as brilliant. This shirt will also be synonymous for me with Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s brilliant 27 goal haul in his only full season for the club, the collection of the 3 trophies, and of course, Paul Pogba’s brilliant dab (who even dab’s anymore!?) whilst holding the EFL Cup. This would also be the last United shirt that Bastian Schweinsteiger, Memphis Depay and of course club legend: Wayne Rooney pulled on before being let go in 2017. I also particularly appreciated the European version of the strip, where the white shorts and socks were used instead of white shorts and black socks.
I got a hold of this shirt during the tail-end of the season, and I was fortunate enough to get one with Ibrahimovic #9 on the back. The fit of the shirt is quite good for an Adidas shirt; continuing the improvements made in the second half of the decade, to improve the fit of their shirts. This was also released as part of the daring series to remove the 3-stripes from the sleeves, and while at the time, it did look a tad off not seeing the stripes down the sleeves, in retrospect however, the use of the stripes down the panels wonderfully allows the shirt to express itself.
This particular season will always hold a special place in my heart given that I covered each and every match-day on the 2016/17 Premier League season on my old blogsite; many of the memories of which were flooding right back as I compiled this extra-long episode of the Jersey Gallery!
You can get the 2016-17 Manchester United Home Shirt in Size 15-16 Yrs Old with Ibrahimovic #9 on the back for just £44.99 and in Size Small with Pogba #6 on the back for just £49.99!
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