In what seems a very dull period for Manchester United fans, Louis van Gaal is now right under the cosh regarding his prestigious management pedigree. Yes, that’s right, the Dutchmen’s sacred philosophy is under threat – who’d have thunk it?
When Van Gaal took over from David Moyes back in the summer of 2014, there was a sense of optimism – a proven manager who’s won wherever he’s managed coming to Manchester. The ruthless man-manager who’s not afraid to make big statements, just like he did in the Bayern Munich dressing room when he pulled down his trousers to illustrate to the players that he has the “cojones”.
Man United fans knew that he wasn’t Pep Guardiola, they possess two different ideologies completely. LvG – the defensive-minded guardian that enjoys nothing more than a ball-playing centre-back – is not a Guardiola: that free-thinking, out of the box type character that lives for attacking, blissful football and will melt your heart with such beauty. No, van Gaal is an industrial manager and that’s what Manchester United needed – for the short-term.
The Dutch boss came into Carrington, stamped his authority, and within 18 months, has cleared the majority of the deadwood out of the club. No complaints there whatsoever. Given the green light by the Glazers – Manchester United’s owners – he has spent and recruited well, bringing in a World Cup winner and filling that midfield void that has been there since the likes of Roy Keane and Paul Scholes retired.
We’re now coming into December 2015, with Manchester United staring an early Champions League exit in the face, but also somehow sitting second in the Premier League. This crazy season symbolises so perfectly the man sitting in the chair.
Some people want him out, some people want him to stay, he’s essentially what Piers Morgan is to Twitter – he divides opinion with ease. What van Gaal has done exceptionally well – along with clearing the deadwood out – is turning United’s defence into a title-winning entity.
Before LvG came in, under David Moyes and Sir Alex Ferguson at times, the Red Devils’s defence was shambolic – leaking goals like they were going out of fashion. The Dutch boss has come in, allowed Chris Smalling to take authority over the back four and cleaned it up to near perfection. There’s no denying that.
However, where the Iron Tulip still isn’t convincing people is the fact that, yes, United look glamorous sitting in second place in the Premier League, and yes, they’re still in with a shout of qualifying to the knockout rounds of the Champions League – just – but where’s the excitement?
Where’s the pure enjoyment of watching your beloved team week-in-week-out? The last 10 minutes of Manchester United’s games used to be the most thrilling, it used to make you perch on the edge of your seat, cover your hands with your eyes creating slits, watching with anticipation, but also trepidation; longing for that goal that’s going to make you roar and jump up with pure uncontrollable glee.
That’s what the Manchester United fans are used to, that’s what Manchester United fans want to see, but that’s what this current team are so far from it’s comical.
When you look at players such as Park Ji-Sung, Patrice Evra, Rio Ferdinand and Rafael, they lived and breathed the Red shirt. They took it for all its glory and poured their heart and soul into it every time they stepped out and represented it.
It meant more to them than just a shirt. Players have to take responsibility for how they act on the pitch, of course, but you can also look at in a way that Louis van Gaal is not doing enough – or saying enough – in the dressing room to motivate these players.
If your team loses, but you know the players are spent giving it their all, you can forgive them. But when you see players walking around the pitch in the first-half, uninterested and not bothering to make a run in behind the opposition, that’s when fans can so quickly turn on you.
Again, players take full ownership of their performance for those 90 minutes, but obviously LvG isn’t drilling it home the importance of some of these games. And it’s telling.
Possibly, above all, the most damning fact is that Jürgen Klopp – Liverpool’s new manager – has taken control from the off and instilled this sense of belief within the players straight away.
He has those players believing that anything’s possible if they emulate his style of play, as seen by the thumping win against Manchester City at The Etihad. Klopp has Anfield bouncing up and down with a new sense of optimism and pure exuberance that Louis van Gaal can not replicate.
Nobody should be calling for LvG’s head, because he was brought in to put the pieces back together, which, in truth, he’s doing. But after 18 months of a philosophy that is seeing attacking football diminish, players regimented into zonal areas of the pitch looking beyond helpless and marquee signings such as Radamel Falcao and Ángel di María go to waste, when is it time to say that we, as fans, expect more?
Over these three years that Manchester United have the former Barcelona and Bayern Munich manager signed down to a contract, it was always going to be about a transition.
Out with the old, in with the new, and at the end of the day, with the exciting youth prospects waiting in the wings, when LvG finally departs Old Trafford, and a new and exciting attacking-obsessed manager comes in, we will have the Dutch boss to thank for nurturing these youngsters.
But, for the next 18 months, expect the same dull and tiresome football that we’ve been privileged enough to witness so far. It’s been one hell of a ride.
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