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LVG one of many recruitment mistakes

Let’s lay out some of the facts. Manchester United have picked up a mere 3 points from a possible 18 in their last 6 games. This includes no wins and only 3 goals. That poor form has led to Manchester United having their lowest points total in their  Premier League history. Ever lower than the famous David Moyes season. Even then the club was still in the Capital One Cup and into the last 16 of Europe. Neither claim can be made by Van Gaal and his men.

The poor results have left the Dutchman with a win ratio of less than 50%.  These games have not come against top sides. Leicester was the only side in that group with realistic Champions league ambitions. With all this in mind it would be very easy to point the finger at Van Gaal for everything. While he must take the blame for the boring style of football and questionable team selections. One problem has persisted at the club for many years now. It goes back as far as Sir Alex Ferguson. That problem is recruitment. What many fans may find shocking is that Sir Alex Ferguson, David Moyes and Louis Van Gaal are all to blame.

Van Gaal and his coaching staff look on.
Van Gaal and his coaching staff look on

The ironic twist to all this is that if Manchester United had done half as well over the last 5 years in the transfer market as they have in the commercial one the club would be walking away with the current Premier League title race. The poor judgment includes selling too many players, selling the wrong players, letting talented players leave for nothing, buying poorly and overspending. If you were to grade the clubs transfer activity since the day Paul Pogba walked out for nothing you would give them a D+ at best.

Sadly losing a talented youth product is not an isolated incident at the club any more. The poor judgement of players goes back as far as 2007 with Gerard Pique. The now World Cup and Champions league winner was sold for £6 million while Sir Alex decided Jonny Evans who moved to West Brom last summer was the better prospect. While in more recent times two former strikers who came up from the clubs academy have come back to haunt the club in the form of Josh King and Danny Welbeck. While few would argue King was a loss to the club many fans still feel disgruntled at the sale of England international Welbeck. While the club has brought in a younger striker in Martial, his goal return ratio so far would not back up the theory that Welbeck was surplus to requirements.

Welbeck scores the winner at Old Trafford
Welbeck scores the winner at Old Trafford

Before Manchester United fans could always argue that any player who left the club never achieved as much at their new club as Manchester United was achieving. This even includes the loss of big names such as Cristiano Ronaldo, Carlos Tevez and Ruud van Nistelrooy. Everywhere was a step down from Manchester United. This has changed in recent seasons, even if we look at the last two seasons  Former players Danny Welbeck, Patrice Evra, Rafael Da Silva, Angel Di Maria and Javier Hernandez are all at clubs that have reached the last 16 of the Champions league. There is now life after Manchester United and it’s very enjoyable for many. The club has let go of many players that are still capable of playing at the highest level, while not bringing in enough replacements. A problem made evident by the sheer lack of numbers in the squad.

The Mexican now has 17 goals in 14 games in Germany as Manchester United struggle for goals.
The Mexican now has 17 goals in 14 games in Germany as Manchester United struggle for goals.

The club has also bought poorly in recent years. While some players have been successes such as Ander Herrera and Morgan Schneiderlin the problem can be shown to its full extent with a few comparisons. In 2010 Manchester United signed Bebe for £7.4 million. Sir Alex Ferguson later admitted he had never seen the player play. Little wonder when he only signed his first professional contract a few weeks previous. Had Sir Alex seen Bebe play he surely would not have made the purchase. While mistakes happen, in recent weeks Manchester United have been linked with a multimillion pound move for Real Madrid playmaker James Rodriquez. In the same summer that Bebe went to Manchester United, Porto signed Rodriquez, for just £5 million despite the fact he scored 5 goals in 7 for Banfield in the Copa Libertadores which is the South American equivalent to the Champions League. It was almost like the club was determined to prove they were smarter than  everybody else by finding a gem nobody had heard about while ignoring a prospect attracting the attention of many of Europe’s leading powers.

The signings of Marouane Fellaini and Nick Powell a little closer to home come as the more obvious examples. In the summer that the club signed Marouane Fellaini for over £27 million, Tottenham bought Christian Eriksen another “Number 10” for just £11 million.  While Fellaini is used as a scapegoat by many United fans, Eriksen has gone onto be one of Tottenham’s leading men as they compete with Manchester United for a top 4 spot. Which player fits into the philosophy of the club more? Manchester United have also wasted millions on big names signings such as Di Maria, Falcao and Zaha.

Could Wilfred Zaha have provided more pace than Juan Mata out right this season?
Could Wilfred Zaha have provided more pace than Juan Mata out right this season?

As mentioned above the final example I will mention is of Nick Powell and Deli Ali. If any two young midfielders have made an impact in the football in recent years it has been these two. While it seemed like a good signing at the time, Nick Powell one of Sir Alex Ferguson’s final signings has failed to deliver. Problems with injuries on the pitch and discipline off it have meant that the one – time prodigy like so many others seems to have missed his chance. While on the other hand Ali has impressed consistently for Tottenham so much so he looks set to be a major part of England’s plans for the European Championships in France next summer. What makes it worse was that Manchester United could have signed Ali soon after Van Gaal arrived at Old Trafford. The boy had a chance to impress and he did just that, dominating the Manchester United midfield as the MK Dons beat United 4-0 in the Capital One cup. The talented young man who would be scoring goals in the Premier League 12 months later, ripped United apart in front of their very eyes and yet they did nothing about it. A far cry from the days, when Manchester United made a move for Cristiano Ronaldo, just hours after he had impressed in a pre – season game. How no coach or player spoke up and said something similar about Ali is only a mystery. But in reality fans can say the same thing about many of the recruitment decisions at Old Trafford in recent times.

Mourinho: why “the special one” is the only one

With 2015 coming to an end, it would seem that the long awaited prophecy that Jose Mourinho would one day be appointed as Manchester United manager will be fulfilled. Ever since his Porto side won at Old Trafford knocking Manchester United out of Europe in 2004, the charismatic Portuguese has looked destined to be Sir Alex Ferguson’s successor.

With the Red Devils struggling for form and identity under the rigid Louis Van Gaal, the personality and more importantly the track record in both England and abroad of the Special One may be exactly what Manchester United are crying out for.

With Jurgen Klopp now at Liverpool and Carlo Ancelotti going to Bayern Munich next summer the managerial merry-go-round at Europe’s leading powers has cleared up as we go into the Christmas period. Should Manchester United choose to sack Louis Van Gaal, their options are running out quickly. Why the move has not happened already is a mystery to many with the problems piling up at Manchester United like the presents under a Christmas tree – should you be so lucky.

It is true that Manchester United have the most clean sheets in the Premier League and that stat has been thrown out a lot in defence of LVG but ever since that faithful night in Wolfsburg the so called unbeatable defence has been beaten again and again. Sadly this sacrifice has not come with the award of more attacking football and goals for Manchester United fans to feast on. The feeling summed up by the fact that captain Wayne Rooney has averaged a mere 0.3 goals per game under the Dutchman. And to add insult to injury Manchester United’s brightest attacking spark this season, Anthony Martial, spent more time tracking Norwich left back Martin Olsson, than he did in the oppositions box, despite scoring a goal.

United manager Louis van Gaal's job is in danger (Source: The Guardian)
United manager Louis van Gaal’s job is in danger (Source: The Guardian)

For LVG, many of the problems have gone beyond the 90 minutes themselves and most noticeably involve team selections. From the constant switching of positions of players like Daley Blind, Matteo Darmian, Ashley Young and Anthony Martial to leaving certain players out altogether, in particular Spanish speaking players, like Victor Valdes and Ander Herrera, very few would feel settled under the former Barcelona manager.

Players such as Angel Di Maria and Javier Hernandez who are now doing well at their respected clubs have made their negative feelings very clear towards Van Gaal. The other main concern many have with Van Gaal is the constant selection of Marouane Fellaini and in particular Wayne Rooney. Both have been consistently selected despite a string of poor performances in comparison to fan favourite Ander Herrera and Frenchman Morgan Schneiderlin.

On the eve of Christmas and possibly Van Gaal’s most important game during his reign at Old Trafford, captain Wayne Rooney has come out in support of the manager saying “We are working hard, we are fighting with the manager to try and get the results and turn this season around.” It is clear that at least some parts of the dressing room are behind the manager. Ironically it was been widely reported that Jose Mourinho had lost the dressing room at Chelsea in recent months. So why is it a perfect fit?

Well it’s not. No manager that is still in the game can say that they, like Sir Alex, have won the Premier League, Champions League, plays attacking football and promotes youth. The one near exception being a certain, Arsene Wenger. But Jose does tick many of the boxes, most importantly a winning mentality. He has won league titles in Portugal, Spain, Italy and England. Unlike Van Gaal he has achieved this in recent years and not in the 90’s.

It has been said that Jose does not play attacking football. This is not entirely true. It is not the swash buckling football we have seen down the years at the ‘Theatre of Dreams’ but it is a style based on power, pace and moving the ball up the pitch quickly. Sides like Leicester have shown this season that tika-taka, for all its worth, is not the only way of doing things in
the modern game. In fact in the season Real Madrid won La Liga under Mourinho, Real Madrid outscored Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona side when they were arguably at their strongest.

Jose Mourinho celebrated winning the Premier League with Chelsea in 2015 (Source: Eurosport.com)
Jose Mourinho celebrated winning the Premier League with Chelsea in 2015 (Source: Eurosport.com)

When Mourinho is at a club that demands attacking football he can deliver. While his style at Chelsea has shown that with no pressure to play in a particular manner, he will play a defensive game, but his time at Madrid has shown that the ‘Special One’ will adapt his natural defensive philosophy. It goes without saying this is a far cry from the man he may potentially replace. Fans can only hope that Mourinho would also be willing to adapt to the idea of bringing through youth in the same way Van Gaal has. Fingers crossed the club will receive the rewards of Van Gaal giving players like McNair, Valera, Periera and many more chances in the first team. Whoever the manager may be next week, month and season.

Like Van Gaal (to a point) and Sir Alex before him, Mourinho would bring a personality to everything he does from shouting on the touch line to finding new ways of making other managers lives a misery. Mourinho is one of the villains of football but, maybe that is exactly what the red devils need to regain their fear factor. A game against Manchester United has become an opportunity that many feel they can take advantage of. As Thierry Henry recently said on Sky Sports, the big teams in England need to stand up for themselves and take control of the league. And for this, Mourinho is perfect.

If he could bring the mentality he had at his previous title winning sides to Manchester United from now to the end of the season it may actually be enough to win the league with nobody in the league currently showing any sort of consistency. The big question is will the board take that plunge?

By Diarmuid Gillingham
Follow me on Twitter: @Diarmuid_MUFC