Neil Humphreys: James Wilson, 19, outshines Radamel Falcao, lights up Old Trafford
MAN UNITED 2
(Marouane Fellaini 21, Juan Mata 59)
(Steven N'Zonzi 39)
The moment was fleeting, but no less special. The creative spark energized the crowd. Old Trafford came alive.
James Wilson put his head down and ran, a glorious, inventive, intelligent run. He didn't beat defenders, he sashayed, his hips swinging like a young Elvis.
Rock 'n' roll was born with Elvis. Manchester United's rock and rollers were born with anarchic young talents like Wilson.
United's way is James Wilson's way.
He's a 19-year-old nascent star burning brightly. He outshines Radamel Falcao. If United's victory against Stoke demonstrated anything beyond David de Gea's pricelessness, it was the fundamental difference between Wilson and Falcao.
The two strikers represent a philosophical battle to win not only matches, but also the hearts and minds of the next generation of supporters.
The instant gratification culture perhaps forced United to assemble their most expensive squad in history in a matter of weeks, but such short-term thinking is unsustainable for a club of such stature.
Van Gaal knows it. That's why he was appointed in the first place and has stubbornly persevered with a diamond midfield that is finally bearing fruit with a fourth consecutive victory.
United's bravery has never really been about throwing money around with reckless abandon.
Apart from the unfortunate reality that it rarely works - see Liverpool this season and Manchester City's dramatic inconsistency in recent campaigns for further evidence - United are just not wired that way.
Genuine boldness is taking a longer view in a moment of immediate crisis.
Taking a punt on a scrawny kid called Best from Northern Ireland and then another one called Whiteside years later; or dropping everything to watch a Welsh whippet leave opponents with "twisted blood"; or dismantling a double-winning team of hardened warriors to replace them with raw teenagers; or picking a lad called Wilson instead of a global icon costing the club thousands of dollars every minute he sits on the bench.
They are real risks, rare acts of coaching bravado that leave United's pretenders trailing in their wake.
In the final analysis, youthful, irrepressible talent buys pedigree in a way that a chequebook never can.
It's the brazen ability to pick kids like Wilson - releasing him to wreak havoc against Stoke like a giddy greyhound out of a trap - that leaves United streets ahead of their next-door neighbours.
In recent years, City and Chelsea have used youthful prospects as makeweights to lure in the latest flavour of the month (such a myopic mentality is slowly changing, but it will still take years to usurp United.)
A football pedigree takes root over decades, with regular plantings such as Edwards, Charlton, Best, Whiteside, Giggs, the Class of '92. and now Wilson, all blooming to make the club sustainable in the long-term.
When Wilson broke free in the 70th minute, displaying blistering pace to sidestep a couple of challenges before curling a shot narrowly wide, Old Trafford roared its approval, almost as loudly as the two goals.
As the young Englishman sprang clear, Best and Giggs were on his shoulder.
The comparison was inevitable, not in terms of talent - it's far too early to start comparing their respective qualities - but in terms of intent.
His reaction was instinctive, to charge, to attack, to move forward, the van Gaal way, the Ferguson and Busby way.
In recent years, a crab-like tentativeness has handicapped United's style and neutered old instincts. They played the percentage passes. They opted for safety in numbers.
But Wilson is different. He slipped in behind the two main strikers, but floated, swapping places with Juan Mata and Ander Herrera. His speed, energy and fearlessness make him equal parts future hope and nostalgic throwback.
United's progress has always respected its past, remembering that their greatest heroes invariably came from the youth team rather than a private jet (yes, Eric Cantona was a glorious exception. But he never played by conventional rules.)
When Wilson eventually went off in the 78th minute, to a standing ovation, Falcao replaced him. The symbolism was unavoidable.
Suddenly, United looked like any other cynical Premier League club, blowing millions on another superstar's pension scheme in a bid to protect the long-term investment of absentee owners with little interest in the game itself.
(And the way Falcao hobbled onto the field, it was a wonder the Colombian didn't injure himself before he reached the penalty box.)
But for a while at least, United supporters caught a glimpse of how life used to be, how it always was at the club.
They saw a skinny kid from the youth team tearing past petrified opponents.
As the festive song goes, it's beginning to look a lot like Christmas. At Old Trafford, it's beginning to look at lot like Manchester United.
LVG: Time to end 10-year FA Cup drought
"It is hard to believe that long-serving players such as Wayne Rooney, Michael Carrick and Jonny Evans have never won (the FA Cup)." - Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal (above). PHOTO: REUTERS
Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal says ending the club's 10-year FA Cup drought is a priority this season.
The Red Devils were indebted to goalkeeper David de Gea as they survived some late scares to beat Stoke City 2-1 at home yesterday morning (Singapore time) and complete a fourth consecutive win in the Premier League to cement their place in the top four.
There is still a long way to go before United can even contemplate a title challenge, but progress is being made after last season's dismal post-Alex Ferguson spiral into mediocrity.
Arsenal and United have won the FA Cup a record 11 times each, but the Devils have not won it since a 3-0 victory over Millwall in the 2004 final.
But without Champions League football on their calendar this campaign and having already been knocked out of the League Cup, van Gaal hopes to do much better in the FA Cup, with the third-round draw taking place on Monday and the matches to be played on the weekend of Jan 3.
Speaking to the Manchester Evening News after the Stoke win, the Dutchman said: "The league is our priority but the draw for the FA Cup will be made after this coming weekend's matches. I know what the FA Cup means to this club, our players and our fans. Its place in the history of Manchester United is well known.
"So it is hard to believe that long-serving players such as Wayne Rooney, Michael Carrick and Jonny Evans have never won this cup. It is a medal I know they are desperate to get their hands on.
"The FA Cup will be a welcome addition to our current Premier League schedule. This is a very important competition and probably the most famous domestic cup in the world."
Van Gaal claimed United could still challenge for the title "if we win every game", but he was not getting carried away.
"I want to wait until after our next match (to assess things), but we're in a very good moment. I want to see what happens against Southampton - when we win a second consecutive away match, then we'll have great momentum." - Wire Services.
Keane still wants Fergie apology
Roy Keane would be prepared to meet up with Sir Alex Ferguson for a cup of tea - if he receives an apology from the former Manchester United manager.
Former United captain Keane feels Ferguson should say sorry for bad-mouthing him after his acrimonious departure from Old Trafford in 2005.
In an interview with FourFourTwo magazine, quoted in several national newspapers, Keane - asked whether he would ever go for a pint with Ferguson - replied: "Well, it would be a cup of tea. If Sir Alex apologises, then yes, I would.
"It was never going to end as a pal's act. I was never going to leave with champagne and flowers."
The outspoken Irishman also made it clear he was not losing any sleep over any supporters who feel his feud with Ferguson has tarnished his legacy. - PA Sport.