After wiping my tears away at the thought of not being able to watch blockbuster European nights at Old Trafford, I decided there was no point in looking back on at David Moyes’ brief tenure at the club. I’ll always be thankful to the man who worked tirelessly and to his utmost best to live up to the legend that is Sir Alex Ferguson.
I will also always feel ashamed about the manner in which his sacking took place, and I wish him the best of luck at Real Sociedad (an admirable move that, to leave English Football when you’ve been comfortable there for so long). And while it was a disappointing season, a really disappointing season, I do believe there were many positives to take.
I will never forget the thrill of watching Adnan Januzaj come on for the first time and take the absolute micky out of the opposition full-back, or Juan Mata make his Lampard-esque runs from midfield and somehow always manage to find the ball falling right at his feet for a nod-in. Yes, Moyes was out of his depth at the club, but I hold no hard feelings towards the man.
But we must look on from that, for it is just a minor glitch in the history of what is to me, the greatest sporting franchise of all time, Manchester United. I must admit, in May 2014 when it was announced that Louis Van Gaal would take control over the reins of the club, I did not know what to expect. Being a 19 year-old, South African lad, I was not aware of much European football outside the boundaries of Britain (and the odd El
Classico here and there). This unfortunately meant, that I was unaware of
Mr Van Gaal’s credentials. So I did my research, searched his name on Wikipedia, blimey that man’s won a lot. First thing I thought was ‘If Moyes was cut from the same cloth as Sir Alex, this man was woven with the same thread of wool’. Words could not explain my excitement, scrolling down and seeing trophy after trophy, in league after league with club after club. This man is the real deal. Of course there was the odd story or rumor about him, like when he dropped his pants to show who had the biggest bollocks in the room, I didn’t mind that though. We needed someone with
bollocks to take control of the dressing room. I felt Moyes’ battle to win the fans over was lost when he lost the battle to win the players over.
My first ever time watching a Louis Van Gaal team was against reigning champions Spain in the 2014 FIFA World Cup. Quite possibly the worst first match to have seen under Van Gaal, because they absolutely wiped the floor with Spain. Every time one of his players picked up the ball I thought to myself “we could use this Blind, that Depay’s got something about him, this Janmaat could school Rafael”. Netherlands went on to finish third, and United fans everywhere were seen with broad smiles from cheek to cheek. And if things couldn’t get any better, he signed quite possibly the best left-back of the previous season in Luke Shaw and a sparkling and explosive midfield prospect in Ander Herrera within weeks of the transfer window being open. LVG 1 Moyes 0.
Preseason, need I say more? We beat Real Madrid and the scousers too, way to win our hearts over, Mr Van Gaal. We played beautiful football, scored bags of goals, we played three defenders! It was a completely new
Manchester United, but it was his Manchester United.
Opening day, Swansea, piece of cake. RVP had scored a beauty against them the season before. We had just beaten some of Europe’s best, and we were up for it. We lost.
The next few games that followed are just a blur. I just remember the frustration, the three at the back, MK Dons, Evans, injuries, the key talking points. It was an easy run-in to the season too, we played the lesser sides and weren’t coming away with anything, really. So we did what Moyes didn’t do, signed more players. Enter Di Maria, Falcao, Blind, and Rojo, that’ll show ‘em. We then played Leicester, and lost again. Hang on? Didn’t we just spend £150 million? I’m not going to lie, we played great football for 45 minutes. Falcao was moving around everywhere, had a spring in his step, Di Maria was running through the defense like they were made of
Lego and we had put three in the back of the net by halftime. We let it slip, though. Rafael (who hasn’t seemed to grow as a footballer at all since his long-haired days playing opposite his brother) made rash challenges. Vardy was taking the micky out of our defenders (who the hell is Vardy?).
In short, it wasn’t the start we were all expecting. We were definitely not up for the run of games that were to follow; Everton, Chelsea, Manchester City, Arsenal, Southhampton, the scousers, all within a week or two apart from each other. And you know what? We actually did alright. Other than a stupid red card from Smalling at the Etihad which probably cost us that game, we picked up the results we never thought we’d get from those fixtures. Morale amongst fans was back up, we were in top four, and confident enough to even say we’re in the title race… We weren’t even playing our best eleven. Half of our best players were injured most of the time, and on the pitch it really did look like we had square pegs in round holes. But we didn’t care (cue Andy Tate Vine), we were winning, we were in the top four.
But then we began to falter, again. The three at the back was easily penetrated, Falcao and RVP weren’t firing, Rooney was somehow convinced to play in the midfield, Mata and Herrera became very costly benchwarmers and we were dominating possession but not dominating the opposition. For the first time since I’ve been watching football, I saw Manchester United fans actually start chanting for tactical changes. And to Van Gaal’s credit, he played to the fans tunes and transitioned to a back four. And to the fans credit, we began playing better.
Fast forward to Gameweek 28 and fans are still frustrated at Van Gaal’s tactics. It’s all good to want to dominate possession, but what’s the point if it means us playing the ball between our back 4? What good is playing Falcao, arguably once one of the world’s greatest number 9’s, if you’re going to play Fellaini in behind him and just bomb long balls up to Fellaini? What’s the point in playing Johnny Evans if you want to play out from the back four? What’s the point in playing Di Maria, one of the world’s fastest
wingers, on the right wing where he has to stop his run to put the ball on his stronger foot?
We played Newcastle yesterday, and I went to sleep after I saw our first half, I’ve never done that before for a Manchester United game. I woke up to see Young scored a last minute winner (couldn’t be happier for the lad), but that it came from a goalkeeping error and LVG still thought of the game as our ‘best performance of the season’. Are you kidding me? In what world is Manchester United’s greatest display one in which our only goal came in the last minute against an incredibly poor and unlucky Newcastle United due to a goalkeeping error? To top it all off, I saw a vine of LVG’s celebration after the goal. If you have not seen it yet, please do. He goes crazy celebrating, whilst Ryan Giggs just stands there, unimpressed. I’m sorry, but when Manchester United’s greatest-ever servant doesn’t choose to celebrate when we score a last minute winner, then something is wrong. I may not know the reason behind it, but I do know that Giggsy didn’t react that way for nothing.
Part of me feels Giggs reacted that way because of the performance on the day. It could also just be shock at seeing another LVG-time (too much?) winner. But I highly doubt it. That man looked worried, frustrated, confused. Three words that ring in the minds of Manchester United fans everytime we see the clock run down and our players continuing to play the ball between the defense and midfield. I am not asking for the Manchester United of old to be back. I’m not one of those fans. I do not mind change, as long as it’s for the better. Right now I don’t think this ‘philosophy’ of Louis Van Gaal is for Manchester United or even English football in general. I’d like to think that I’m speaking on behalf of all Manchester United fans when I say we don’t care whether we have 60% ball possession or 40%. With football, it’s never been that which decides a game. We see clubs like Arsenal walking out of losses with 80%+ possession. It’s not what matters. What happens is how many times you put the ball in the back of the net, and how well you stop your opponent from doing the same. We have a squad that under Sir Alex Ferguson could’ve easily been a treble-winning side, one in which every corner on the pitch you see a global footballing star.
I am still on the fence about Mr Van Gaal. Whilst I am in no position to deny his credentials or expertise, I do have every right to criticize how he has got the team performing in recent weeks. I love that he’s brought up such fantastic prospects through the ranks, and agree with him whole-heartedly that McNair could represent the first team for the next ten years. I think Blackett is alread miles ahead of Evans and that James Wilson’s presence on the bench is enough to even make Falcao shake in his boots. I love that he seems to be genuinely interested in going all the way in the FA cup
(fingers crossed) and was willing to give fringe players like Young, Anderson, Fellaini & Cleverley a chance before simply kicking them out the squad (the benefits of which he is now reaping from Young & Fellaini’s performances). I do however feel he still has an incredibly long way to go to prove his worth to the fans. His blatant misuse of Di Maria, Falcao and Herrera are just some examples of negligence on his part. Throw away tiresome tactics and robotic-like thinking on the pitch and allow our footballers to express themselves in ways only players with our level of class know how to, and I know for a fact we’ll blow teams away. That is the
United way. Not 4-4-2. Not wingers. Not Ryan Giggs. It’s winning.
Good luck, Louis
We are all watching.
-By Soham Singh (@vangaalway)