It has been 19 months, 19 long months since Louis van Gaal took over as Manchester Untied coach and after the 0-1 loss to Southampton on Saturday, his words all but confirmed his admittance that he has failed to deliver at the most coveted job in world football.
“I’m very disappointed that I cannot reach the expectations of the fans,” the Dutchman told reporters after a match where the Red Devils managed just one shot on goal---a 40-yard effort from centre-back Daley Blind.
“They have --- or they had --- great expectations of me, and I cannot fulfil them, so I am very frustrated because of that,” he added.
Emphasis on the ‘they had’ please. The ‘they had’ was much, much before this latest defeat.
When the Dutchman took over he threw around the word “philosophy”, and that it would take the United players 3-4 months to understand his “philosophy”. He has succeeded. That “philosophy” is to hog the ball as much as possible and hope to create a chance or two from which to score. If the team fail to score and the opponents do exactly that to edge a win, then the opponents are lucky---the Dutchman’s description of Southampton’s goal after his own players left debutant Charlie Austin free in the box to head home a brilliant header past David de Gea.
Van Gaal has very often cited injuries for his team’s poor form. Granted United’s typical bad luck with having players in the doctor’s office weaken the team, but is that somehow keeping Wayne Rooney and Anthony Martial---the club’s only forwards---from actually playing as forwards?
The pair managed 84 touches between them during the match, but only a grand total of ONE in the box. Rooney, while the club’s most experienced forward, has himself admitted he plays better just behind the main striker in a supporting role. Martial, 20, the only highlight of the season, is being played on the wings when he has proved his capabilities to lead the line. If van Gaal did not see either of them as forwards, then why sell Robin van Persie (to Fenerbahce) and Javier ‘Chicharito’ Hernandez (Bayer Leverkusen)?
“Football is not only defending but also creating chances. And we did not create chances,” the 64-year-old added. How will you be creative when you use your most creative player in Juan Mata as an impact substitute and make winger Jesse Lingaard yet another wing-back? When you leave the Eredivisie player of the year(2014-2015) Memphis Depay on the bench?
The former Barcelona, Ajax, Bayern Munich, Netherlands (quite a CV there) boss also said that taking off Marouane Fellaini and losing Matteo Darmian to injury were factors in the team conceding the goal. Were they? Even if Fellaini, already 6 foot 4 inches, was a foot taller, Austin would have scored, such a shambles was the Belgian’s performance. Surely a manager as experienced as van Gaal sees that.
Angel di Maria (left for PSG), Mata, Depay, Lingaard, Adnan Januzaj (back from his loan spell at Borussia Dortmund), Ander Herrera all scream creativity and attacking play, if only they were allowed to express themselves. It is no surprise that the United faithful, normally the most loyal and silently suffering fans, have begun to boo the team.
But it is the manager’s instructions that are being followed. These players, after all, are trying to stay in the team and will do what they are told. Depay chose not to listen and be expressive instead. He finds himself on the bench with speculation already beginning about his future at the club.
Van Gaal’s biggest mistake, in this writer’s humble opinion, was to say before even a day on the job that this would be his swansong. That his three-year contract with United will be his Premier League experience, a league he was yet to manage in. Why would player’s play for you after a point then? Di Maria found his way out sooner, but what is keeping other’s from just biding their time and waiting for the next manager to come in?
“Can only work hard with my players to improve the game,” he further said. Please do not. For however long van Gaal is there in the job now, the last card he can play---and it is doubtful he has many left---is to just let the players go out on the pitch and do their thing. To express themselves and to attack, to play the Manchester United way.
United’s recent 3-3 draw against Newcastle was a match they should have won. Players expressed themselves, attacked at pace, and were inventive with their passing. They looked like a United team. It says a lot that a draw will be one of the few highlights of the Dutchman’s reign at the club. He himself said he would rather resign than face the sack. Now would be the time to do so. Step in Jose Mourinho, Ryan Giggs, Pep Guardiola, whoever it is. If only it could be Fergie time again.