I’ve seen the future, baby, it is Iqbal…
Leonard Cohen said that. Or something close, at least. It doesn’t matter.
Change is afoot everywhere we look. New seasons, and a new manager, will invariably bring new fans to the club. So perhaps now is a good time to take a look at some players not everyone will know. Yes, you, superfan at the back, you most likely will know them, but take some time to celebrate them anyway. It doesn’t always have to be about Bruno, De Gea and, erm, Ronaldo, does it? After his recent dazzling display in the 4-1 win over Melbourne Victory, there seems to be only one place to start, with the name on the lips of many a fervent United fan right now: Zidane Iqbal.
Anyone who watched either of the Red’s two preseason games so far must have been left salivating at Iqbal’s magic. Unflappable on the ball, accurate in his passing, confident in his directing the play of teammates, the Iraqi international looked as if he’d been a first team regular for years, such were his poise and wondrous skill. When, after looking as though he had been muscled off the ball in his opponent’s half, he not only recovered possession, but turned two defenders inside out as he spun around and peeled away, I could have kissed someone. It was sumptuous, scintillating, divine. Like I said, I could have kissed someone. I settled for pumping my fist in the air like we’d found the Holy Grail. Because perhaps we have.
Lately, I’ve been watching a lot of old United games (I’m an addict, so what? Also, who doesn’t need the ameliorating balm of the glory days every now and again lately?) One thing I noticed now more than I did as a boy back then, is just how well Eric Cantona shielded the ball when in possession. Turning his back to his opponents, he would protect the ball as he looked around to find the best pass available, before rolling it to a teammate’s feet. Watch the game against Melbourne and see if you can count how many times Zidane Iqbal did just this very thing, with eloquence, power and poise. You would be forgiven for losing count. He is admirably self-assured, was uncowed before Liverpool’s defenders, always incisive and looking to go on the attack. Eric Cantona is not only my favourite player of all time, but one of my favourite human beings of all time, so I don’t make the comparison lightly. Obviously, Iqbal has light years to travel in order to be the King, but we’re here to praise him, so praise him we shall. In Iqbal we trust.
Besides, others have already gotten even more carried away.
‘The best Zidane in football history’ went one comment after the 19-year old’s impressive performance in the 4-0 win over Liverpool. You remember that one, right? The 4-0 win? Over Liverpool? 4-0 (yeh, yeh, pre-season blah blah – a game is a game is a game – don’t we deserve a little sunshine? Living round here, I could do with some). While I can’t quite go along with the ‘best Zidane in football history’ line just yet (I grew up watching the ‘other one’ play – he was majestic, operatic, a master), our talented young midfielder is definitely on the right track. Rising through the ranks of the academy after joining the club aged just nine, he made his first team bow on the 8th of December last year as a late substitute in a Champions League match against Young Boys. Now the clamour is rising for him to become a regular fixture in the starting XI
Like Alejandro Garnacho (for whom I also recently wrote a eulogistic, glowing review). Iqbal brings something we’ve all been starved of for too long now. Excitement. Unpredictability. Danger. He gets you out of your chair.
Already he’s worth the price of admission alone. During his time on the field against Melbourne, he was at the centre ofalmost everything United did that was good. As a local lad, one only has to listen to him speak about the club to realise how much he loves it. Ask him where he wants to play, he’ll tell you he doesn’t care – he just wants to be involved.
“I don’t mind playing in a double pivot, as a No.10 or on the wing, anywhere the manager asks me to play,” he recently told United View. ”When I was younger, I used to play as a No.10, but over time you adapt your game a bit more. But if it’s the wing, or anywhere, I don’t mind as long as I am on the pitch.”
For my money, he and his teammate since childhood, Charlie Savage, are the future of Manchester United’s deep lying midfield, but I’m going to cover that and other things elsewhere soon. For now, suffice to say his star is on the rise. We need to proceed with caution but allow ourselves someexcitement still. After all, football is to be enjoyed, and few make it look as joyous as Zidane Iqbal. Obviously, we don’t want to get carried away and heap too much on his shoulders(you know, like comparing him to, say, Eric Cantona), but let’s just be happy he’s ours. Midfield is such a sore point for the team right now. ‘Our’ Zidane may just be the cure. All being well, we may look back on this as the dawn of something special. It feels good to finally feel good about things, after all.
Already I’m looking forward to seeing him play again, watching him mature and seeing what he has up his sleeve for next time. While there may still be much to work on, he obviously has a stunning future ahead of him. Perhaps he’ll even reach the dizzying heights of his namesakeone day. Just don’t get too carried away. It’s only early days.
Ok, I’m off to scream into a traffic cone and slowly lose my mind.
Don’t get carried away.