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The Special One, mark two

Don't say you weren't warned.

Di Maria seemed comfortable on his Premier League debutPhotograph: Getty
Di Maria seemed comfortable on his Premier League debutPhotograph: Getty

You were told that when Louis van Gaal rolls into town he becomes the focus of all attention. The fulcrum around which an entire club tilts. And that's what's happening at Manchester United.

On Friday, Van Gaal sounded his familiar war cry. The one whereby in the summer he was hailed as a genius and now the media are questioning his work. The one where he always starts slow but, after three months, his teams start playing well. The one where he is confident, because he's shown his worth everywhere he's been.

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There's something Mourinho-esque about the way it's still all about Van Gaal in the week when United broke the British transfer record with the £60 million signing of Angel di Maria. And the parallels don't end there. The Dutchman also occasionally shows selective memory: the Barcelona side he left in 2003 just three points above the relegation zone might disavow the suggestion that he's only ever known success, as might the Holland side he failed to take to the 2002 World Cup.

Sometimes he can be a bit disingenuous, too, like when he talks about United's "10 injuries" and then, when you do the maths, you realise he's including the likes of Jesse Lingard, James Wilson and Sam Johnstone, as well as Shinji Kagawa who is on his way to Dortmund.

Ultimately though, what Van Gaal is asking for is time and that he be judged when a few more months have passed. He echoed that after yesterday's scoreless draw at Burnley. It was a game United could have won - Kieran Trippier's shove on Ashley Young probably should have been punished with a penalty - but drew, while displaying the familiar defensive fragility of the back three.

Di Maria's 70 minutes offered a glimpse of how Van Gaal sees him - at least against sides such as Burnley and at least if he sticks with the back three - and that's as part of a midfield trio alongside Juan Mata and Darren Fletcher, with Robin Van Persie and Wayne Rooney floating ahead. It feels somewhat top-heavy, particularly given the defensive uncertainties, but it's an option. And the Argentine seemed unfazed by the Premier League. He enjoyed space on the ball and used it wisely before cramps forced him off.

Where all this will lead when a trio of left-footed players are at Van Gaal's disposal - £30m Luke Shaw (sidelined with fitness concerns until now), £16m Marcos Rojo (still waiting on a work permit) and £14m Daley Blind (whose transfer is imminent) - remains to be seen.

Van Gaal asked for three months and he's entitled to them. But he ought to know that having spent £160m (counting Blind) folks will feel entitled to expect something more than a return of 0.67 points per Premier League game.

MICHEL Platini's decision not to run for the Fifa presidency means that barring some form of divine intervention we'll have the pleasure of Sepp Blatter's leadership until 2019. Many have suggested Platini opted not to run because he knew he couldn't muster the support to defeat Blatter. The thinking is that it's better for the Frenchman to hold off, than run, lose and possibly no longer be a viable candidate.

Platini denied this, saying his "heart was with Uefa right now" and: "The people who really liked me wanted to me to stay at Uefa and the people who really disliked Blatter wanted to me to stand for Fifa."

In other words, he wasn't going to be used as merely the "not Blatter" candidate.

Beating Blatter is going to be a tall order for anyone, and not because Fifa voters are all corrupt, as many rather childishly insist, but rather because Blatter, over three decades, built a power base among smaller FAs, the kind which in the past had been routinely ignored by the big European and South American nations who dominate the World Cup.

You can be cynical about his motives (and you'd probably be right) but the bottom line is he looked after the little guys who had historically - in the Stanley Rous era - been treated as pariahs. He understood that Lesotho's vote counts as much as Germany's or Brazil's. Until Platini, or another Uefa candidate, finds a way to address that, the situation won't change.

SERIE A kicked off yesterday, fresh from Napoli's elimination at the hands of Athletic Bilbao in Champions League qualifying, which left Italy with just two representatives, Juventus and Roma.

Some have trotted out the Year Zero line again and you can see why. Some of Serie A's best performers last year - Mario Balotelli, Mehdi Benatia, Ciro Immobile - have moved abroad and the newcomers haven't exactly set pulses racing. But far from it being a sudden decline, it's more a case of chickens coming home to roost.

Rock bottom was hit several seasons back. And what we're seeing is a slow reboot. The green shoots are there, but everyone is exercising caution, particularly when it comes to spending. And that, obviously has repercussions on the pitch.

Juventus will push for a fourth straight Serie A title without manager Antonio Conte, who quit mid-summer to take the Italy job. It was a bold and risky move for Conte - he talked of a "cycle" coming to an end, though it does seem the club's unwillingness to spend heavily once more had a lot to do with it - and it forced the Bianconeri to react on the fly. They called on Massimiliano Allegri, the former Milan manager, and whether he can get his message through to a veteran group of players who are used to the Conte way remains to be seen.

Roma could be the ones to benefit. They finished second last season and while they have lost Benatia, they've hung on to their young stars and added some veteran nous in Ashley Cole and Seydou Keita, as well as promising youngsters such as Kostas Manolas and Juan Iturbe.

After that, it's a scrap between Napoli; Fiorentina (who hope to finally have the Giuseppe Rossi-Mario Gomez partnership fit and firing); Inter (who picked up Gary Medel and Nemanja Vidic); and Milan, who have gambled that Fernando Torres will regain his mojo.

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