Van Gaal criticism unfair?
A lot can change in a week in the life of Manchester United football club. Last week I was waxing lyrical about how I was 100% certain we were going to beat City and go top of the league, then a week later we’re out of the league cup to Middlesbrough and the #LVGOut army is steadily gathering pace.
And on that point I can officially confirm I won’t be championing myself as the next Mel Gibson/Braveheart of that particular army. There’ll be no rousing of the troops, no chants of “freedom” from the dire football, and no calls for LVG to be sacked from me. I accept the football isn’t great and that we’re highly unlikely to see anything like the fast flowing counter attacking we crave any time soon with LVG in charge. I even empathise with a lot of the more reasoned and structured arguments that Van Gaal isn’t the man for Manchester United. But this isn’t Moyes. And whatever happens under Louis Van Gaal’s reign of power as Manchester United manager, it never will be as bad as Moyes.
We’ll finish in the top four under LVG and we’ll have games like Everton away where for ninety minutes everything does click. On the flip side, we’ll also have results like Arsenal, Man City and Middlesbrough, where even a year in to his tenure things just don’t work out. Yes the reasons behind why we keep having these games where it doesn’t work out – or to be blunt we’re dreadful – is in itself is a concern and regular viewers of The United Stand will know our general stance is that LVG’s style of football is the issue. Put simply, we’re not creating enough chances and it’s not natural to most of our players to overplay the ball the way Van Gaal likes. These are players who want to play the killer pass, who want to put the ball in the box quick and who want to commit the opposition. Unfortunately Van Gaal doesn’t.
And why should he change? Van Gaal is what he is. Those of us who have observed his last decade in management knew his style of play before he came to United so it shouldn’t come as a surprise to those who employed him. If Van Gaal doesn’t meet our expectations then yet again it will come down to a poor recruitment decision by the board. Like Moyes they should have foreseen what they were getting with Van Gaal. He plays and manages in a certain way. For Moyes we needed a surgeon and we recruited a clown. Similarly with Van Gaal we wanted a magician and we recruited a mathematician.
That’s not to say we won’t have some level of success and I certainly don’t think he deserves the sack or the bad press. Van Gaal never promised to play exciting football the United way. He came here to win things the Van Gaal way and over the last 15 months we’ve seen exactly what that way is. It involves long periods of possession, which means defences are always well set and won’t concede many chances against us, which in turn requires the Fellaini option when we need to chase a goal and use the long ball. I don’t like it and I’ve been vocal about that but the fact United fans expect something else is surprising. This is Van Gaal and this is how he sets his teams up.
Talking immediate concerns, Crystal Palace at the weekend is too close to call. After two losses in a row I expect Palace to be up for this and much will depend on how United respond to the poor show against Boro. Win and everyone will be saying we can win the league. Lose and the #LVGOut army will grow quicker than Brendan Rodger’s ego when he’s looking in the mirror.
As with most things in life, the truth is somewhere in between the two extremes. Unless there’s a big shift in Van Gaal’s methodical approach and reluctance to entertain, his time at Manchester United will continue to be two steps forward, one step back. That will mean stability and strong foundations but it won’t mean exciting football and titles. For a couple of seasons that may not be the end of the world?
By Mark Goldbridge