Assessing Van Gaal’s legacy

May 26, 2016 Tags: Reads 13 comments
featured image

Gone, but not forgotten. Louis van Gaal’s legacy at Manchester United is going to be a topic of debate for some time. With the Dutchman’s dismissal announced, his achievments are now open for discussion. Van Gaal is far from popular, and while even an FA Cup win couldn’t save him, maybe in the years to come fans may come to appreciate the young core the Dutchman has left for incoming manager José Mourinho to build upon.

In time Van Gaal may be able to claim that he has left a better squad for his Portuguese protege than he inherited from the bumbling David Moyes. Van Gaal’s transfer market purchases weren’t all disasters, but it is telling that of the 15 players Van Gaal signed for the first team only three started the FA Cup final.

It leaves a question: was the squad left by the Dutchman truly better than the one he took control of in 2014? Rant takes a look position by position.


David De Gea has improved every season since joining the club, but considering the Spaniard’s feud with Van Gaal’s goalkeeper coach Frans Hoek it is debatable how much the coaching staff had on De Gea’s performances. Anders Lindegaard is arguably better as a backup than Sergio Romero, but the difference is marginal.

Verdict: no improvement


Van Gaal’s fascination with full-backs was a bizarre storyline in the Dutchman’s second season in Manchester. The manager would routinely switch full-backs in game – a running joke among fans. He inherited players such as Rafael da Silva, who was sold to Lyon a year later, Patrice Evra, who moved to Juventus as Van Gaal joined, Alexander Buttner, who was immediately sold to Dynamo Moscow, and Antonio Valencia, who is now exclusively a full-back.

Rafael was replaced with Matteo Darmian, who is seemingly just as injury prone and no more consistent. Though Darmian can play at a higher level than Rafael, he must improve his attacking game to stay at the club. Marcos Rojo is naturally a centre back, but his performances at full-back are been so poor he doesn’t deserve to survive a cull. Rojo was the club’s worst full-back this season.

Meanwhile, Like Shaw is the left-back of the future and the 2016 version surpasses the Evra of 2014. The Frenchman is thriving in the slower paced Serie A, but struggled in his later days in Manchester. Cameron Borthwick-Jackson and Guillermo Varela also provide a bright future on both flanks.

Verdict: improvement.

Centre Backs

United has suffered an issue at centre back that has roots in Sir Alex Ferguson’s reign. The Scot did not find long-term replacements for Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic. By the end of David Moyes tumultuous reign, Vidic was bound for Inter and Ferdinand began his final chapter of his career at Queens Park Rangers.

However, Chris Smalling has undergone a career revolution under Van Gaal. Phil Jones continues to spend more time in the treatment room than the pitch. Jonny Evans lasted a year before leaving for West Bromwich Albion amid few tears from fans. He became the Baggies‘ Player of the Year.

Smalling is now partnered by Daley Blind, who is not a natural centre half. Blind will likely not play in that role under Mourinho, and perhaps he may not use the Dutchman at all. Meanwhile, Timothy Fosu-Mensah is a star of the future, with the ability to play across the entire back four and in midfield. The future is bright at the back.

Verdict: improvement.

Central Midfield

Oh for the days of Tom Cleverley, Anderson and Darren Fletcher! Michael Carrick, often on his own, was United’s engine room, as Fletcher fought serious illness and others struggled around him. Ryan Giggs’ career drew to a close in Moyes’ lone campaign, as he became Van Gaal’s number two.

Van Gaal replaced that group of misfits. While Carrick remains on his last legs, he is joined by one of the best midfielders of the current generation, Bastian Schweinsteiger, although the German must retain some consistent fitness to continue justifying his sizeable wage packet. Ander Herrera and Morgan Schneiderlin have each suffered poor campaigns.

Shape is as important to Mourinho’s style in midfield as individual so there remains open questions about most of United’s midfielders. There’s lots of work to be done to provide balance to this group. Marouane Fellaini shapes up as Mourinho’s first exit – the Belgian embodies two failed eras and will not be missed around Manchester.

Verdict: improvement.

Juan Mata

Attacking Midfield

Juan Mata was Moyes’ record purchase and has often been underwhelming during his time up north. Mata is now a very different player from the one who Mourinho sold over two years ago. The Spaniard was joined by Adnan Januzaj, Nani, Ashley Young, Shinji Kagawa and Wilfried Zaha in Van Gaal’s first season. Jesse Lingard and Andreas Pereira had not yet broken through.

Januzaj has not enjoyed his time under Van Gaal and may not survive a summer clearout. The Belgian has regressed since his breakthrough under Moyes, and there is evidence of an ‘attitude problem’. Nani, Kagawa and Zaha are gone. Lingard and Pereira are both part of the first team squad, and are joined by Memphis, whose United career can only get better after a substandard first campaign.

There is clearly promise in this group that can be unearthed by better balance – a right sided attacker would help – and a manager who is not so fearful of creativity. That’s a big part of this analysis; Van Gaal mismanaged many of these players, and a new manager should be able to extract more.

Verdict: marginal improvement.


Robin Van Persie, Wayne Rooney, Javier Hernandez and Danny Welbeck welcomed Van Gaal to Old Trafford. The group didn’t last long. Hernandez was loaned to Real Madrid and then sold permanently, Welbeck went to Arsenal on deadline day and Van Persie made it a year before it became obvious the Dutchman’s legs had gone.

Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford’s stunning breakthrough has been a revelation. United can’t sensibly continue to rely on two players so young, but each has been magnificent this season. The club requires reinforcements, and a senior striker is likely to be at the top of Mourinho’s agenda this summer. It’s a damning indictment of Rooney that he has been so clearly overtaken by two freshman strikers.

Youth wins here though. The forward line Van Gaal inherited needed to be refreshed. Although the manager didn’t replace those he sold proved to be a problem, but Martial and Rashford’s emerging talent outshines all.

Verdict: improvement.

Although Van Gaal’s results have regressed during two years as manager, the squad that he leaves has stronger roots. It’s damning that despite this improvement and the money invested it did not show on the pitch. The future should be bright on the red side of Manchester, but only if the new manager can extract more from a more talented squad than Van Gaal realised.


Man Utd Hospitality - May 26, 2016 Reply

I agree totally. I think Van Gaal was good for us in the long run. I thought he was unfortunate not to get another season as he has built foundations for a really high class campaign for next year. He brought through talent who seem raw and eager to play in the first team and I think if the squad stays the same with an inclusion of a striker we would finish top 4. The youngsters that came through under Van Gaal are all very very good football player.

the risk now is that all those youngsters who made a bright start to their career could potentially never play for Man UTD again. If Jose thinks the club needs a clear out, a clear out the club will get and it could be the end of a few young talented player who may well get shipped off to other clubs.

I think with Jose he brings class and with class brings class players so I think we will have another season of getting used to a manager and new players but I think we will finish 4th and win the league the year after that.

On the whole, unfortunate for Van Gaal but you dont get paid to bring players through the system, you get paid to win football matches, something he didnt do enough of in the end.

swapnil - May 26, 2016 Reply

well the article gives the overall picture that van gaal has left us leaving a sqaud that is in a relatively better shape than when he came if you consider like for like.however a broader picture must be considered when assessing these things for eg the amount of money spent,the formation and tactics used by lvg ,the results achieved with these improvements etc
1.have we really improved at centre back position?there is no doubt that smalling has improved compared to his 2 yrs old self but is he really the new defensive leader in mould of rio and vida?or is the ultra defensive formations of lvg made him look better than he really is?whenever we had to play a little expansive football or whenever an fast attacking side played against us our defense was torn apart(champions league final group game,west ham away,spurs away,arsenal away,)
2.have we really improved at fullback position?no doubt we have a gem of a player in shaw but are darmian,rojo,young,tony really better than what we had before?sure evra was a suspect defensively towards the end and rafaels composure was always a doubt but do you think they would have fared badly had they played in the formations and safety first tactics used by van gaal?with these tactics we could have easily used evra for these 2 seasons. we would have had a leader and a player who really fuc*ing cared about our club in the dressing room.not only that he was probably the fittest player to have ever played for us i mean for gods sake the man used to give his his 200% every time he played but never ever got injured.we could have had a great consistency at LB with him around
3.midfield i’m sure herrera and morgan are huge improvements but they were never used by him consistently so clearly he did not have a very high opinion about them.hopefully jose will make better use of them
3.Att mid: is lingard really all that better than nani?and who is responsible for the regression of adnan?also i like mata but is he even half the player that he was when he was at chelsea?
4.strikers :credit to lvg for getting martial and introduction of rashford but in my opinion he just stumbled upon rashford by luck as he did not have anyone else to pick and not even in his wildest dreams lvg would have imagined martial to be that good.and even after all this we ended up scoring the least amount of goals in 20 years!!
i personally feel lvg was a his first year he kept uttering the word philosophy to make him look smart and when people realised that there was no philosophy he stopped using the word alltogether in the second year as it would make him look foolish.So i don’t want to give him any credit for improvement as he has left no positive legacy. i would just like to thank him for some of the signings and for the fa cup.
P.S.. i would really love to know what ed thinks about lvg’s legacy

denton Davey - May 26, 2016 Reply

Your sceptical review of the claims (of “improvement”) made in the article is spot-on. It’s not that these past two years were wasted so much as that LvG really didn’t seem to know what he was doing – apart from tearing apart the squad he inherited and replacing it with an under-whelming group of in-transfers and some kids who were given a chance, which might not have happened if LvG’s team was not submerged by a tsunami of injuries.

For all the blather about LvG’s commitment to youth, it’s telling that only Martial and Rashford featured in the FACup. Fosu-Mensah and Varela were sent-to-Coventry for a single mistake so that the FACup starters were Valencia and Rojo. Also, Januzaj had obviously lost confidence while Perreira was never given the chance to have any confidence to lose. So, two kid-strikers were given multiple chances – mainly because TheWayneBoy was just not up-to-the-job starting up-front – while the four others plus Borthwick-Jackson were either kept on the bench or else ignored. His treatment of Herrera and Schneiderlin was equally suspicious since the team seems to have had a better winning record when these two played and were also more adventurous and not-quite-so-boring, too.

The issue is not that “kids” are inevitably superior to journeymen like Young, Jones, Valencia, Fellaini, and Darmian or fading stars like MC16/Schweini and TheWayneBoy but rather that when LvG was able to choose the safe-option then that’s exactly what he did. LvG might not have been a fraud but quite obviously the claims about believing-in-youth were borderline-fraudulent.

Will Jo$e be equally cautious in his team selections ? That will be a fascinating thing to watch in the next few months.

Adam Joseph - May 26, 2016 Reply

thanks Denton!

Adam Joseph - May 26, 2016 Reply

did you not read the article at all?

Adi - May 30, 2016 Reply

Couldn’t have said better…Rashford played lights or and that’s the only reason he held on to the position….anytime the newbies like Memphis, Fosu, Borthwick, Varela made a mistake, they were dropped. And yes the squad Mou has inherited is better but the tactics that’ve been drilled into them need to be flushed out…better man management is essential…. so that the attacking verve which is in United DNA comes back.

NazManUnited - May 26, 2016 Reply

@AdamJosephSport Most boring footie ever! Scraped 4th Scraped 5th only joy FA Cup Victory! Summary; Mediocre!

SKW - May 26, 2016 Reply

This is a debate? We’re worse than Moyes. Worse.

Adam Joseph - May 26, 2016 Reply

you’re missing the point of the article, clearly.

SKW - May 27, 2016 Reply

That you think the squad improved in four out of five areas. I think that’s hilarious.

We almost let De Gea go and replaced him with an abject fool and our “discovery” of players like Martial, Rashford and Lingard is entirely down to injury and luck. Nothing else. It had nothing to do with a plan on LVG’s part. Nothing.

Basically, ever decision this man has made has proved wrong. From his handling of Di Maria to his purchase of Memphis. At the same time, he’s wrecked and ruined others, played dire football, bought no one when he should have, kept Rooney on and finished with less points than the Moyes team (I think). The only reason we’re fifth is the league was so weak.

Opti - May 27, 2016 Reply

I think this is a mostly fair description. I might even have given the Dutchman credit for keeping De Gea away from the Madrid with the broken fax-machine… De Gea won back-to-back-to-back PotY at United… and is now undisputed #1 for Spain and #1 in the league and Top 3 in the world…I would say he improved at United (despite LvG?).

I also agree that our defensive/conservative tactics are one reason why our defensive stats are so good. Two CDMS helps any defensive line and we saw how vulnerable our defense is against gung-ho attacking opponents. I would even say defense did not improve on a player-by-player basis vs. Moyes/Fergie’s reign.

Otherwise, mostly agree, and believe LvG was a necessary evil for United. Perhaps another year of necessary evil was needed, but the results were clearly not good enough over the season, despite significant outlay.

Tapiwa Mubonderi - May 27, 2016 Reply

In the end when the league dominance did not show up, all I wanted from LvG was a trophy like he has done in his other clubs. His is a case of not taking sufficient risks.

jai agarwalla - June 2, 2016 Reply

Any good manager has to manage the players he has and produce a team that is better than the sum of its parts.While he improved parts of the team he could not raise the passion level , the intensity or the desire of the team as a whole. The tactics were always about possession which would be fine if there were no goals. For the first time in 26 years I fell asleep during a game !!! The above article is correct but the sum of the parts is what counts and the results and style is what stays in mind, the rest is irrelevant.

Add your comment