Criticised by many connected with Manchester United for an uninspiring brand of football, Louis Van Gaal has been continuously undermined by rumours off the pitch concerning his possible imminent departure, and by his tendency to experiment with various formations, which has not exactly endeared him to even his most ardent supporters.
In truth it is a strange situation at Old Trafford. The under-fire Dutchman has spent around £200m on new talent designed to arrest any lingering memory of the failed David Moyes experiment, but the bitter truth remains that Manchester United have not really progressed since his appointment. Van Gaal’s tendency to change formations at the drop of a hat, and their shortcomings in front of goal have been cruelly exploited. He must be credited with building new youngsters, continuing the impressive legacy of Sir Alex Ferguson’s early years as manager, but if one is to be cynical about it all this is perhaps more out of necessity than a willingness to do so. It speaks volumes that Van Gaal has allowed experienced campaigners to leave the club while those recruited have hardly lived up to their price tags. Giving opportunities to the likes of Paddy McNair and Cameron Borthwick-Jackson over the last two seasons masks his shortcomings.
It is easy to justify a poor performance by simply pointing to the inexperience in his side. This only succeeds in undermining his own selection decisions, or places unnecessary pressure on their younger players in an attempt to deflect it off himself.
On one hand he must be praised for tightening up the Manchester United rear-guard, but their troubles in front of goal have strengthened calls for Van Gaal’s departure. His post-match interview at Stoke City on Boxing Day smacked of both desperation and a man seemingly resigned to his fate. Since then he has overseen an encouraging goalless draw with Chelsea where they struck the woodwork twice, a nervy 2-1 win over Swansea City and a scrappy 1-0 win against Sheffield United. Some of the criticism thrown at Van Gaal ought to be aimed at the club’s head of recruitment Ed Woodward who has continuously tried and failed to correct Manchester United’s stuttering transfer record in recent seasons. It would be naïve to suggest that Van Gaal has no say in whom the club signs, but Woodward must be held accountable too.
Three straight league defeats in 2015 and a premature exit from the Champions League would see the pressure mount on any manager, let alone one charged with managing a club that demands so much. It is easy to forget that Manchester United topped the table three months ago, but not even the most optimistic of United supporters believed they were genuine title contenders. Couple this with the head scratching decision to play big money signing Anthony Martial out wide as well as the patchy form of another new arrival, Memphis Depay, has inevitably seen the pressure mount. Two weeks ago it looked likely that Van Gaal’s future lay away from Old Trafford, but this club has a reputation to protect. The longevity and accompanying success under Ferguson spoilt the club, a side used to winning. Progress may be slow and evidence of it barely registering for those of a red persuasion, but should the Dutchman lead Manchester United to another top four berth and register some silverware, he would have done well.
It is obvious that Manchester United are reluctant to part with Van Gaal. He is not the long term answer, but in the short term he needs to be backed. That said, one gets the feeling that Louis Van Gaal’s days are surely numbered irrespective of how this season finishes given the discord that already exists.
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