A (non)Emotional Defense of Hating Van Gaal’s Philosophy

“It’s hard to recognize my club. It sounds dramatic, I know, but it’s true. It’s like Leicester are United of old and United are Leicester of old! I don’t understand!” As we chatted about United’s latest failure, a terrible showing against Liverpool in the Europa League, emotions started to run high. This, after all, is football. It’s an emotional experience.

“Then, Van Gaal has the audacity to tell me that if I look back at his time in charge I can see that his philosophy is working?! Seriously?! If his goal is playing terrible football and draining the hope and life from the players and supporters, then he’s absolutely right!”

Ah, football…bloody hell.

There’s no point in sugar coating what Louis Van Gaal has instilled at Manchester United, no point at all – even if you are a ‘top red.’ The uncontrollable Dutch legend, with a resume of trophies any manager would kill for, seemed the perfect fit for a United side still sick from the loss of the greatest football manager of all time. The David Moyes experiment died from multiple complications while still in its infancy. A, now, trigger shy Woodward was just the opposite 8 months into the Scotsman’s tenure at United as he was unceremoniously shown the side door at the AON Training Complex. In truth, especially after the Netherland’s display at the World Cup under Van Gaal, the former Barcelona and Bayern Munich man seemed the perfect appointment.

But it has been anything but that.

Claiming to want to train the brain of his players, Van Gaal has used multiple daily sessions, even during the season, and the same few drills over and over to instill his philosophy into his players. An eye-catching first summer tour in the United States proved what we now know – the less you know of the Dutchman’s philosophy the better things tend to go. A 7-0 drubbing of a poor LA Galaxy side in California was literally a mirage. Wins over Cristiano Ronaldo’s Real Madrid and Steven Gerrard’s Liverpool taught us nothing about the greater picture. The wins were preseason friendlies but everything we needed to know was right there, we just didn’t realize it yet! The Dutchman’s philosophies were still new and his players weren’t firmly grasping them as United ran, somewhat, riot on their preseason tour. Van Gaal’s philosophy would begin to sink in, and just in time, for the opening day of the Premier League: Manchester United 1 – 2 Swansea at a packed and hopeful Old Trafford.

Four wins out of their first 12 fixtures in all competitions saw Van Gaal scrambling to ease the Moyes-like unrest growing through the United faithful. “He needed to get the dross out of the club,” was the excuse after United were battered like a beach in a hurricane at League 1 side MK Dons, 4-0. A ten match unbeaten streak followed this horrendous beginning to Van Gaal’s tenure and fears were put to rest, even if only for a while. Wins away at table toppers Southampton and at Arsenal sandwiched a 3-0 win against Liverpool at Old Trafford.

But never ever forget, it’s the hope that kills you.

Only 3 losses out of the next 12 matches saw United sitting in a good position in the table, but the final loss in that stretch saw Dat Guy, Danny Welbeck knock United out of the FA Cup at Old Trafford with his new Arsenal outfit. The results were going United’s way but the football on display was the kind of stuff most of United’s supporters had never seen before – alarm bells were already beginning to ring. The final 10 matches saw four wins in row to lock up 4th spot but 4 losses from their last 6 matches reinforced the fear that had already been planted early on – Louis Van Gaal is not right for Manchester United.

Match results are one thing, but player performance and man management are a completely different story under the Dutchman. Rafael gave away a penalty at Leicester and was sold. Chicharito missed a penalty, and a couple sitters, and was loaned to Real Madrid for the season. Tom Cleverly found greener pastures at Aston Villa, and eventually back with Roberto Martinez at Everton permanently. Darren Fletcher followed Jonny Evans’ lead and headed for West Brom. He even sent his own son, Robin Van Persie, packing and Nani joined him in Turkey.

The philosophy was in full play.

Wingers became strikers and visa versa. Backs were moved in to central defense and midfielders’ passes, backwards and sideways, per game tripled. Keep the ball. Poke and prod the defense for openings. Don’t take chances! Take a touch before shooting – you’ll be more accurate. Everyone was over trained. The squad was thinned out. Youth were brought in to fill the gaps – which is how it should be! But at one point 16+ injured showed Van Gaal’s naivety to a long English football season. He now uses youth to cover his failing tracks – ”fill in the blank name’ part of the squad for tonights match.’ Meetings were scheduled for those players to explain themselves when they missed a penalty or an open goal; they were then pulled from that duty. The confidence of each and every player on the pitch was greatly diminished and the world could see it. New players would quickly succeed only to be eventually influenced by Van Gaal and lose their way. The players, and fans alike most likely, like the Dutchman as a man but his football was the stuff sleep is made of.

The Dutchman’s second season was worse but why bore you with the details. Let’s just say United were top of the league at the end of September, 1 point off the top at the end of November, but a disastrous December decimated the club as far as 7th place. In a Premier League season when Sir Alex Ferguson would have walked the league by 20 points, Van Gaal is fighting for a Europa League spot.

The humane thing to do would have been to put the sick and dying animal down in December, giving United the hope (there’s that word again) of turning things around, but that highly necessary move never materialized.

Instead, the Iron Tulip, once feared in football, now only scares his players and supporters every time he has a press conference. Once a highly respected football man, Van Gaal now trolls his own club with his statements, his lineups, and his offerings of hope.

I hate myself for hating the man and the philosophy that has turned our club into a footballing joke, and this cancer goes much higher and deeper than Van Gaal’s office, but I hate it nonetheless.

In the words of my friend, “Make it stop. Please…make it stop.”

Bored. – Manchester United v Sheffield United Match Review

Man Utd v Sheff Utd Stats

“I thought football was supposed to be entertainment?” questioned Jake Humphrey on BT Sport’s coverage.

“It’s supposed to be, and it used to be at this place. I don’t think anyone’s surprised at what we’ve seen in the first half. The players are bored, the fans are bored; everyone’s bored. You look at the manager and he looks bored as well” Scholes ranted in reply.

Unfortunately, he’s right. Saturday’s 1-0 win over Sheffield United was yet another chapter in the drab novel of the 2015/16 season for Manchester United. Fans were restless, the players looked restless, Giggs looked restless. Once again we struggled to perform, struggled to excite, and struggled to score. It’s a story we’ve watched and read about over and over again this season, so why is there still no change? This is nothing new, after all.

Sheffield United are, for a League One side, a very decent cup team, reaching the Capital One League Cup semi finals last season, and the 5th round of the FA Cup a year previous to that. However, they are still a League One side, and when you field a strong team featuring the likes of Rooney, Herrera, Mata, Schweinsteiger, Martial and so on, a plethora of chances and opportunities should be being created. Yet, it took until just before the 70th minute for a shot on target (which even then was a scuffed toe-poke from Darmian), and took the introduction of a currently inconsistent Memphis Depay after 60 minutes to spark the tiniest ray of light into the game with two off-target shots. Most telling about the game was that these shots were ironically applauded as if they were actually goals scored, simply because he had a go.

So why are we so blunt in the final third? I am no football coach and I don’t claim to be. But it isn’t a case of footballing knowledge or coaching ability in my opinion, it’s simple common sense.

On deadline day we brought in a 19 year old striker from AS Monaco called Martial. Nobody expected much from him, but since his thunderous introduction at home against Liverpool, he has become our most direct, potent attacker at the club. Yet where is the prolific finisher played? Left wing. In the early part of the summer transfer window in 2014 we bought a dynamic, exciting, creative attacking midfielder from Athletic Bilbao called Ander Herrera. What happens at half time? He is pulled back to defensive midfield and Fellaini is moved forward. Mata – a number 10 at right wing. Rooney – (while more debateable) a number 10 at number 9. Pereira – a number 10/winger at defensive midfield. Fellaini – umm…

You get the point.

All these attacking players, goal-scorers and creators alike, are all played in unfamiliar positions, and we wonder why things don’t naturally click in the final third? Rather than instinct, these players are second guessing what they need to be doing at any given time, and are reverting to the safe option of a sideways or backwards pass each time. Mata is a passer, not a dribbler or a runner, so rather than instinctively doing what a winger should do – get to the by-line and whip in a cross, he has to think, cut back inside, and pass across. Martial through the centre offers the midfielders a forward pass in behind the defence, but instead the midfielders must pass sideways toward the wing in order to get him on the ball. This is why we get an over-thought, over-worked, drab way of playing football with so very little penetration that quite frankly would work well as a good way of sending a crying newborn to sleep.

That said, Sheffield had 10 men behind the ball at all opportunities, and naturally this would be hard for most teams to break down. However it still doesn’t forgive the lack of both intent and risk shown by seasoned international stars at one of the world’s biggest clubs. Play the players in their natural positions with the freedom to go and create in a fluid formation, and those two things will return naturally.

Negativity aside however, this is the football we signed up for as Manchester United when signing Van Gaal, in return for the building process that comes with him. At Bayern he frustrated fans with the very same style of football, but he was key in the laying of the groundwork for them to go onto great things in years to come, and it was the same with Barcelona before that.

Look forwards for a moment at our team in 5 years – a developed Martial up top; behind him a selection from a (hopefully) more consistent and developed Memphis, Pereira, Lingard, Herrera, Januzaj; fed by Schneiderlin in his prime; in front of a back line containing Shaw, McNair, Smalling in his prime, and Varela/Darmian; and potentially if we can keep hold of him, De Gea. This is why, even though we all likely dislike the football played under Lucky Louis, we must back him while the board do, as disgruntled as it obviously makes us.

Here’s to hoping for a potential improvement at Newcastle on Tuesday.