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.”

Sir Alex Ferguson, Louis Van Gaal & Getting Lost Along the Way

What can be said about Manchester United these days that hasn’t already been said a thousand times?

“The football is boring!” Heard it.

“Fans are falling asleep!” I’ve seen the videos on Twitter.

“The manager is delusional!” I’ve said it myself a few times.

“If you were a top red you’d support your club!” This ‘top red’ nonsense needs some explaining anyhow.

You’ve heard them all too, no doubt, and more.

We’ve all seen the statistic pages about goals scored (or lack of), points obtained (or missed), matches in a row not scoring at home in the first half (what are we at now, 10?), and new records set (in a negative way) – we’ve seen them all. They hurt. They cut deep into a fan base who, save for the last 2 ½ seasons, has basically known only large amounts of success. The failures have come few and far between, but there were failures. We’ve been knocked out of the FA Cup unceremoniously more than a few times (Oh Danny boy); same with the League Cup (will we ever forget MK Dons). This is football.

Bad losses and streaks happened under Sir Alex Ferguson, but we’ll choose to remember it all with rose colored glasses. Truth be told, after Manchester United won the Premier League 8 times in its  first 11 seasons in the newly formed top flight (never missing out on the top prize longer than one season), they only won the trophy once in the next 5 seasons (going three straight seasons without winning it). There were calls for Ferguson to do what he had planned to do and had changed his mind, retire.

For United fans these were tough times. During this barren stretch, the only trophies to make their way into United’s famous trophy cabinet was the FA Cup in 2004 (the year before Rooney’s arrival) and the League Cup in 2006. I’d reckon to say Van Gaal would love to have these trophies now. A bang on-form Van Gaal display meant the League Cup is gone for another season. We are still, somehow, in the FA Cup – no words will be wasted here on the Sheffield United debacle. Our next opponent is the Rams of Derby County FC. They sit second in the Championship and love to score a goal or two at home – I wonder what that’s like. As predictable as Rudd van Nistelrooy scoring goals, Van Gaal will deploy two defensive midfielders with the hope of a replay at Old Trafford. Don’t let the sarcasm get lost on you now…but am I wrong? One thing is for sure – it will be dire. Apparently Van Gaal believes you and I are happy.

Next up for United is a trip to St. James Park. Historically a tough trip for United. These two famous clubs have faced each other 162 times with United winning 83 of those matches. Quite honestly, a win tomorrow for United seems almost impossible and there is little hope in the reserve tank to believe for something else. The players look devoid of confidence and joy, and the manager seems more firmly rooted that his system will be found true. His resume is impressive and Van Gaal has won the lot – something we all pointed to when he succeeded the clueless Moyes. His history of getting fired for failing is also impressive. Sadly it looks like we’ve gotten the delusional-needs-to-be-fired Louis Van Gaal, as opposed to the trophy winning mad man we expected.

A trip to Liverpool next Sunday looms on the near horizon. Van Gaal has not yet lost to the Red half of that famous city just down the M62 from Manchester. A loss for Van Gaal at Newcastle may not be the final straw of his United career, but a loss to Jurgen Klopp’s rebuilding project at Anfield would surely send the Dutchman to his hideaway in Portugal 17 months sooner than planned.

Rebuilding is tough, but money has been spent and good players, even a couple great ones, are currently playing at United with a youth team filled with promise. This dire, boring, drudge-filled, fearful, impassionate football doesn’t have to be a part of that process. Van Gaal, while trying to implement strict policies in his philosophy, somehow lost his way on the pitch. His inability to reverse the trend is alarming, and a spirited 35 minute display against Chelsea is no turn around. Louis Van Gaal needs wins, and uncharacteristically of a win, he needs them to be done in a manner that not only entertains the fans but rejuvenates the players he has lulled into a stupor.

Your guess is as good as mine what the next 6 days of Manchester United football will bring. There is little hope right now for anything but draws and losses and that should never be the expectation of a Manchester United fan, much less of the manager in charge of the whole show.