DrFanaticism like 70,000 people don’t watch. Whatever Anthony can achieve from here on the perilous, treacherous and potholed path to becoming, for the time being, Manchester United’s second most expensive signing ever, we’ll always have the 33-34 minutes from his full start, an interlude that was kind of a highlight. By itself, my time, a man bent on painting a portion of this day with Anthony’s shadow.
First, he grabbed the right touchline and did a kind of free-swimming solo, swaying in both directions, waving his foot over the ball like a pavement magician hiding a ball under a cup. It was funny, gratuitous, and somewhat pointless. But also, it is not useless. United would go on to win this match 3-1, aided by two superb second-half goals from Marcus Rashford and some killer passes from midfield.
But they were rowing at that point. They may be late. They needed something. How about a small show? And that’s just Anthony’s physical presence, the desire to see the game as a series of duels, the scene of trick-and-click and capture. If he succeeds, he will succeed like this. It will be fun, cinematic and seemingly scary. This is a useful adjective anywhere. Nowhere more so than Manchester United, a football club that has celebrated the ghosts of its baroque past over the past decade.
A minute later, Anthony swerved from the same spot and scored, a superb goal made by the three up front together: Jadon Sancho to Rashford, who provided a nice little delay and a sliding pass for Anthony, who opened his hips out, and bent. To one side like a downhill skater takes a gate, smooths the ball into the far corner.
Finally, there was a four-stage celebration, a piece of theater in itself, or rather musical theater, ending with a kind of maneuver of the roaring lion into the camera. Granit Xhaka tried to protest with him on his return, perhaps to celebrate in front of the distant fans, but just got a blank look from United’s new No. 21 player, a man brimming with fighting, juicy, adrenaline, wild eyes, and drinking in the sweetness of the day.
He was kind of a half for Anthony, which is as remarkable for his pure bravery as anything else. Anthony has played two games since March before that. A year ago, he was called half-time out of PEC Zwolle. Of course, it is necessary to be careful with compliments at this point. Alexis Sanchez also looked good on his debut. Anthony is all potential energy, all sparkling and shining. But it seemed important that the goal was only one part of his hour on the field. Perhaps the best thing was a minute before his goal, as he took a pass from Diogo Dalot, legs humming like a cartoon rabbit, two tails of defenders, and produced something impressive from the start to stand, flick between his marks, back to Dalot, who Eriksen directed his cross away .
The best part of that moment was the noise of the fans, a beautiful football curious, an involuntary kind of thing, hiss, the hum, the sound of 20,000 people purring with delight. It’s a rare skill to be able to generate this kind of response. And because Anthony is a special presence in this. Despite all the talk about a Hollywood club, when was the last time Manchester United signed a really Hollywood type of player?
Sancho can still bring him. Cristiano Ronaldo at the end of Ronald Reagan’s career as a leading man, ready to start playing the bad guy. Before the break, Anthony attempted a 50-yard run off Aaron Ramsdale, sparking a flurry of polite applause, more of intent and liveliness than execution.
Old Trafford was a humid place to kick-off, reeling a bit in the killer September heat. After back-to-back victories, Eric Ten Hag looked good in stepping out, all the jawline and shoulders and casual tailoring, albeit still with those black school shoes with the odd black strap.
He was bold, too, with Anthony starting right, with five attacking XIs—none of whom were his self-appointed freshman and 37-year-old apprentice, the mighty CR7.
Anthony has helped bring Scott McTominay close to the back, who, whatever his limitations, will always cover space and double the team in defence.
Anthony waited wide early, then spent some time tracking down Gabriel Martinelli the other way. That, not the show, is what will keep him on the Ten Hag.
Arsenal scored a superb goal, passed by Bukayo Saka and finished by Martinelli, but was ruled out for a foul by Paul Tierney after a prolonged bend on the VAR screen.
This was an excellent match as well, a meeting between these two teams that felt, for the first time in some time, was on the cutting edge of something. Even the bench felt useful. Lindelöf, Maguire, Ronaldo, Fred and Shaw are the kind of list that appears on message boards for forever disappointed fans, half a dysfunctional team out there. Only time will tell if this is a real step towards something else. But Anthony has now entered the building.