Anybody remember those great days for Manchester United, when Sir Alex Ferguson’s side would win everything in front of them, dominate the opposition and most of all entertain? There were goals, great pacey football, no shortage of skill and people queuing up for a chance to see their heroes at the Theatre of Dreams. Seems so long ago now doesn’t it, but it has only been two and a half years since Fergie and his team were celebrating winning yet another league Championship as the legendary Scot announced his much deserved retirement.
So what on earth has happened at Old Trafford since? Well the David Moyes experiment was a massive disappointment, as the man selected by Ferguson turned the Champions into a 7th place side in the space of a season. The attacking, free-flowing football of the Ferguson era was sacrificed for a more solid approach and the players in the squad were clearly not attuned to play that way, so results suffered. The crowd became disillusioned as the season drew on, and although the signing of Juan Mata was received gratefully, the purchase of Moyes’ Everton favourite Marouane Fellaini would be seen as everything wrong with the Moyes United. Fellaini is a very good footballer, but is more about the physical approach rather than the high tempo, attacking football the United fans had become used to. David Moyes was relieved of his management responsibilities towards the finals few games of the season, with Ryan Giggs taking over until the summer brought Dutchman Louis van Gaal to Manchester.
Louis van Gaal, the vastly experienced and hugely successful Louis van Gaal. League title winner in the Netherlands, Spain and Germany, a coach who had just taken the Dutch national team to the World Cup semi-finals only to lose on penalties. A World cup tournament where the Netherlands remained unbeaten throughout. Surely this was the calibre of man needed to restore United back to the top of the table? But no, it hasn’t really worked out that way. Despite the odd encouraging performance in his first season at Old Trafford, the majority of displays were lacklustre and frustrating viewing for the fans. 4th place in the Premier League was secured and celebrated like a massive achievement by all, this is Manchester United, a global force in football, 4th place is never an achievement. All this came with massive investment on the pitch, a squad was built up that should have been pushing for the title rather than making up the numbers. Ander Herrera, Luke Shaw, Marcos Rojo, Ángel Di María, Victor Valdés and Radamel Falcao were all brought in, but their qualities were never really utilised.
However, Champions League football was achieved and United fans hoped that the first season was just a means to an end and the entertainment and success would follow the following season. Anticipation was heighted by continued high expenditure on the field, Darmian, Depay, Schneiderlin, Schweinsteiger, Martial and Romero all made the move to Manchester, and the services of David de Gea were retained. The product on the pitch though has been appalling to watch, currently Manchester United are arguably the most boring view in the Premier League, despite having a squad of players that should be competing for major honours. Ok defensively there is still a weakness, but Shaw, Blind, Rojo, Jones, Darmian and Smalling aren’t terrible players. The midfield can boast World Cup winner Schweinsteiger, Schneiderlin, Carrick, Mata, Fellaini and Ander Herrera, all of which are great options. The attacking end has Young, Rooney, Martial and Memphis Depay, all of whom have goals in their game. But for whatever reason, van Gaal has not been able to get these players to perform even remotely close to their abilities.
It is perhaps worth remembering that it has been 6 years since van Gaal’s last domestic club success, at Bayern Munich. Maybe in that time football has changed slightly and his once effective methods are no longer working as required. It was perhaps Sir Alex Ferguson’s greatest trait, the ability to adapt his methods over time to meet a challenge. As Louis van Gaal is nearing his retirement from the sport does he really want to have to change his approach, perhaps maybe there is a little stubbornness to change. But change is needed, currently his methods at Manchester United are failing horrendously, fans are bored, players look terrified of playing, entertainment is lacking and the results are disappointing. In a league where none of the main protagonists have yet taken control, and Leicester City are on top of the table, Manchester United are missing their opportunity to get back into the title picture.
The time for change at the helm has to be now, the transfer window is still open, there is still time left in the season to at least guarantee Champions League football. Currently that looks like a pipe dream to even the most hard-core, rose tinted United fan. Louis van Gaal for all his past glories, has failed at Manchester United, this seems a harsh statement to make but you have to be judged against the benchmark. Sir Alex Ferguson at Manchester United encouraged attacking free football at all times, very often with a ‘score more than you’ approach. Players enjoyed wearing the shirt and were encouraged to express themselves. Ferguson could improve a player, make them play beyond themselves, youngsters were incorporated in a way that benefited them, yes not all made it but the ones who did became special. Compare that to van Gaal, who plays a static, dull brand of defensive first football, the players don’t seem to be able to express themselves and the shirt weighs heavy on their performances. Young players are put in the first team, but only because the senior players have regressed so much, this isn’t helping the youngsters, it’s almost hanging them out to dry. But the most scathing critique that can be made is that not one single player has improved under van Gaal’s management at Old Trafford. That is unacceptable, the club, the players, the fans, hey even the money men deserve a lot more.
So what needs to change? Well imagine Sir Alex took over today, what would he do? Well he’d go and buy a centre back straight away, it is outrageous that no attempt to replace Ferdinand and Vidic has been made, whether that be a Woodward issue or a van Gaal one, the issue is obvious. Then he’d look at his squad full of talent and let them play, if Sir Alex took over now Manchester United would be back in the title chase. Under van Gaal they are fighting for a lucky 4th place finish. Of course Sir Alex isn’t coming back out of retirement, and the early contenders for the role are José Mourinho and Ryan Giggs. Mourinho doesn’t play the United way either but would at least make the team competitive again. Giggs would be a risk, being a world class player rarely transfers over to management and his very inexperienced. But a change needs to happen and now is the time, if United head into February with van Gaal still at the helm, kiss goodbye to a title challenge, cross your fingers for Champions League football and bear with the next few months at Old Trafford because it’s not going to get any prettier.
Firing managers isn’t the Manchester United way, but neither is what they are providing currently on the field. The club needs to be brave, make a big decision, if that is Mourinho, Giggs or any other candidate the decision has to come sooner rather than later. This could be the most important week at Old Trafford for a number of years, it’s decision time, the club can’t afford to wait.
What do you think needs to change to Manchester United? Who would you like as the manager? Can any success still be drawn from the current season? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below.