Aloysius Paulus Maria “Louis” van Gaal, may still be needed for the long-term stability of Manchester United playing style and ethos . . .
Making the case for Louis van Gaal continuing as Man United manager
Following a 2-0 defeat to Stoke City on Boxing Day, Manchester United is justifiably in crisis mode, but sacking manger Louis van Gaal at this stage would only serve to push a club on a bad streak into further disarray. It also would cause instability at the time when the Red Devils need structure in the worst way.
First of all, Jose Mourinho is not the answer. He would make Man United even less of a possession-based attacking team, which is what the fans and the board hoped for with the appointment of Van Gaal. Perhaps the harshest criticism of Van Gaal has been his inability to get the Red Devils to attack with style and substance. But even Mourinho’s trophy-winning sides famously specialized in putting men behind the ball and quashing attacks, rather than attacking in waves and pleasing the crowd.
Chants of “Boring Boring Chelsea” followed Mourinho’s Blues even in years when they won the Premier League title, so bringing in the Portuguese tactician would be the equivalent of taking off shoes that may be a size too big and replacing them with shoes that are three sizes too big.
As for personnel, Mouinho’s arrival would likely ostracize and isolate Juan Mata, who plays a vital role in United’s attack. Mata, who performed admirably at Chelsea, found himself out of favor and shipped out by January of Mourinho’s first season back in London. Mata and Mourinho do not fit together.
If Van Gaal does go, assistant coach Ryan Giggs would probably be the best man to take over in the interim and ride out the remainder of the season. Considering Van Gaal does not appear to have lost his dressing room just yet and Giggs is on the staff, making the move to push the Dutchman out would appear extremely short-sighted for a club that is desperately trying to take a long view and recreate the stability of the Sir Alex Ferguson era.
Another major criticism of Van Gaal has been his transfer dealings. Without a doubt, the Dutchman majorly mucked up Angel Di Maria’s arrival and departure, though the Argentine played himself out of the team as much as Van Gaal pushed out the pacey winger.
However, Van Gaal’s other transfers have been designed to help sturdy the club with an eye to the long term and with an added emphasis on fixing gaps in the back. Unfortunately, Luke Shaw, Marcos Rojo and Matteo Darmian have all been hit with injuries, and the 20-year-old Shaw’s injuries have been the most brutal in the bunch. Van Gaal brought all of those players to the club and found ways to integrate them almost immediately, but without continuity, the backline has slowly deteriorated.
Despite shipping six goals in the past three Premier League matches, Van Gaal’s United has only allowed 16 goals in 18 matches, which is tied for the second best defensive record in the Premier League. Defensively, Van Gaal had his team looking like far and away the best team in the league until injuries sprung leaks that have not yet been properly plugged. Considering how the team started the season, Van Gaal should find a way to shore up the back sooner rather than later.
Scoring hoals, however, have not come easy for the Red Devils, as only Liverpool has scored fewer goals than Manchester United for the teams in the top half of the Premier League table. That problem stems from the sharp falloff of Robin van Persie a season ago and the subsequent nosedive of Wayne Rooney.
Van Persie’s sudden inability to score goals in 2014-15 combined with Rooney’s dropoff put Van Gaal and Manchester United in an awkward predicament. Instead of buying proven mature strikers, the club opted to go after players that could potentially lead the line for the Red Devils for the next decade.
At the moment, Manchester United’s best attacking options are 20-year-old Anthony Martial and 21-year-old Memphis Depay, both of whom Van Gaal helped usher into the squad. Jesse Lingard is another player Van Gaal has showcased, and the 23-year-old is yet another attacking player getting time on the pitch with an eye to future success.
Van Gaal’s eye to development and promoting the future of the club came into full focus when he brought on 18-year-old Cameron Borthwick-Jackson and 21-year-old Nick Powell in a vital Champions League group stage match that ultimately dropped the Red Devils into the Europa League. However, that competition should provide Van Gaal the perfect platform to further develop United’s youth for European competition.
Club captain Rooney has provided the biggest problems this season, as the 30-year-old looks like a shadow of the great goal scorer he once was. Van Gaal would be wise to move Rooney back into the midfield, as the Dutchman did a season ago. The England international has only managed two Premier League goals in 14 appearances, but transitioning Manchester United away from Rooney and to the younger generation is a delicate balance that requires a strong leader.
Photo: Wayne Rooney’s leadership can help Louis van Gaal.
Van Gaal’s willingness to leave Rooney out of the starting lineup on Boxing Day further underscored that the manager still has the presence and confidence to make tough decisions. While Rooney looked helpless in attack after coming on against Stoke City, Rooney can still provide much-needed leadership on the pitch.
Likely, Van Gaal will find ways to involve his captain, as he did a season ago. Replacing Marouane Fellaini with Rooney in midfield and sticking the tall Belgian back in attack as a “Plan B,” which Van Gaal did a season ago, would make a great deal of sense at this stage. Again, these were genius tactics that the Dutchman employed with great success a season ago.
United has now lost four straight in all competitions, its first four-game losing streak since 1961, and is winless in its last seven matches. Moreover, the Red Devils are no longer in the Champions League this season and trail Tottenham and Crystal Palace for next season’s Champions League berths. Understandably, the club is in crisis.
Following a series of poor results, the abrasive figure of Van Gaal makes for an easy target, especially with Mourinho waiting in the shadows. Sacking the manager midseason, however, would not suddenly heal injured players, provide young players experience or help speed up the transition away from Rooney to the younger generation.
In the face of adversity and heightened pressure, Van Gaal continues to take actions that will help reestablish Manchester United by playing youngsters, building a defensive structure and working to promote the long-term growth of the club. Sacking the manager to start 2016 could undo all the progress made over the past 18 months.
And, yes, Manchester United has made progress, even if recent results don’t exactly show it.
By Shahan Ahmed
Up Man U!