Fortunes can turn fast in football. And no game will illustrate that fact quite so vividly as when Manchester United and Inter Milan meet at FedEx Field in Landover, Md., just outside of Washington, DC, on July 29 for the International Champions Cup.
These clubs are juggernauts of the world’s game, with pedigrees of the very highest tier. But both teams are currently troubled and looking to turning things around this year. And that work begins stateside this summer.
United, as you’ll no doubt have heard, had a disastrous season last year, the first in the post-Sir Alex Ferguson era. The patriarchal manager vacated his seat after decades in charge and personally handed it to David Moyes, who seemed a close facsimile of Ferguson at his age. But Moyes was not Ferguson, and so the handover was, well, dropped. United stumbled to a seventh place, barring their entry into a European competition this year, and seemed to make no progress at all. Moyes was out before April ended, and many felt he was given far more time than he had earned.
In his shaky shoes now walks the imperturbable Louis van Gaal, the iron-fisted Dutchman who surprisingly led a young Dutch team back into the semifinals of the World Cup last month. He has been successful just about everywhere he has gone, winning league titles in the Netherlands, Spain and Germany and reaching three Champions League finals. But he has much to set right.
Lately, United have shed a raft of the veterans that ensured Ferguson’s sacred continuity. Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes, the last vestiges of the golden generation are gone. As are defensive pillars Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand. There will be more departures. But in midfielder Ander Herrera and defender Luke Shaw, the first of the recruits show promise. And in forwards Wayne Rooney, Robin van Persie and Juan Mata, there is still some serious star power on that side of Manchester. To ensure that their absence from the fray atop the Premier League is short-lived, however, it all has to coalesce quickly.
Or else United might wind up like Inter. The proud Milanese club has been in free fall ever since Jose Mourinho left following the 2009-10 season, when he won the treble - the Italian league, cup and the Champions League. Suddenly short of the cash that had always been ample, the club has had to dump salary and the talent it was going to. By the end of 2012-13, they were just the ninth-best team in Italy.
But Walter Mazzari - their fourth coach since Mourinho left – has stopped the rot. Last season, Inter climbed up to fifth place. And it has managed to rebuild a solid core of players. Vidic now plays for them. Goalkeeper Samir Handanovic is one of the best. And the midfield fivesome of Mateo Kovacic, Yann M’Vila, Fredy Guarin, Ricky Alvarez and Hernanes should measure up to that of any team in Italy.
When these two sides face off in Washington, we’ll get a sense of how far along they are in their quest to reclaim their dignity and their place among the elite.