Fans are angry, but United’s problems run far deeper than the manager alone

December 11, 2015 Tags: Reads 22 comments
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There was still hope, although few supporters truly believed it could be done. That Manchester United would find a way to win in Germany and sneak into the knockout stages of the Champions League. It wasn’t to be.

Instead, the Red Devils find themselves “advancing” to the Europa League and the spectre of Thursday night European football. It’s a depressing thought for a club of United’s stature. Fans are not happy. For some it’s the final straw; they do not share Louis Van Gaal’s love for patient football, let alone show tolerance for his process.

Whether supporters are overreacting is ultimately irrelevant. Fans on both sides of the argument – in support of United’s Dutch manager, or otherwise – can present a fair case. In truth, the club’s problems are not only on the pitch, but are a systemic issue that reaches far beyond the dressing room: a flawed transfer policy and a commercial vision that has not prioritised team-building.

There were years of under-investment by the club, whatever Sir Alex Ferguson’s claims that money was “always” made available by the Glazer family. There was a decade of negligence that left the team in a sorry state post the David Moyes disaster.

Van Gaal was brought in on a wave of World Cup fever, with fans excited by the new era. More than 18 months later, and many are as angry now as they were excited then. After all, the football is methodical, bland and not as fruitful as many would like.

Last season’s trio of victories over Tottenham Hotspur, Liverpool and Manchester City in the Spring now seem like the exception and not the rule, whilst United’s domination of Everton in October is an anomaly.

Van Gaal’s squad has issues of balance, although this was always likely to be a concern in a rebuilding process. With the wholesale squad turnover that has occurred in the Gaalactico era it is impossible to expect Van Gaal to integrate so many new players without some growing pains.

That said, the club’s transfer policy is still in question. Van Gaal has cut significant dead wood from his squad, but the wisdom of not adequately replacing some players must now be questioned.

Danny Welbeck, Shinji Kagawa, Rafael da Silva and Javier Hernández could all play some part considering the injury crisis that has struck. United’s list of absentees is too long given the lack of cover available, and while an injury crisis can always strike, the busy treatment room last season should have offered a warning and perhaps even a lesson. The club should strive to promote youth, it but Van Gaal shouldn’t be fielding a team of inexperience in the most important game of his era.

United’s success in the market under Ed Woodward is mixed. Morgan Schneiderlin is the defensive midfielder the club has long needed; Memphis Depay and Anthony Martial have immense talent that will pay dividends in time; Bastian Schweinsteiger’s class speaks for itself. Elsewhere, Matteo Darmian will get past this rough patch, much in the fashion that Marcos Rojo and Daley Blind have slowly adjusted to English football.

But the picture isn’t universally rosy. It is now clear that Angel Di Maria and Radamel Falcao were Woodward’s signings, driven by a policy that prioritises commercial requirements. Neither truly fit well into the squad Van Gaal was trying to build; both proved to be luxury purchases, made without foresight of squad building.

Van Gaal isn’t absolved of all blame. Di Maria is a world-class footballer whose fragility could have been handled better. Players of Di Maria’s quality sometimes need to be incorporated into a team’s system, even if it requires tinkering with a dogmatic philosophy.

The Dutchman’s rigidity has brought results this season to Van Gaal’s credit, but the club’s failures in the transfer market are a significant factor in the team’s malaise. The summer ‘transfer sagas’ involving Sergio Ramos and Arturo Vidal were thrilling at times, but also masked an inability to acquire players of the highest quality.

Whilst a tough stance paid off with David De Gea, it did not apply to many players Woodward has sought to acquire. Adoring from afar has led to little gain, leaving the squad threadbare. Meanwhile, analysts, pundits and fans now have the ammunition for a seemingly non-stop critique. Van Gaal has little defence left.

In fact, the squad is now so unbalanced that Van Gaal’s team can only be set up in modes that are either too defensive – most of this season – or too attacking, as was the case in Germany this week. United’s defeat at Wolfsburg was entertaining, but the lack of protection offered to the back-four meant the home side sliced through the United’s defence far too easily.

If anything, Wednesday’s defeat demonstrates why Van Gaal has chosen to set up the team defensively. Yet, there is also a question to be asked about why the Dutchman hasn’t found a system that emphasizes his team’s strengths. Indeed, it is curious that Van Gaal hasn’t used the Dutch 4-3-3 system more often, given the balance it might bring.

In De Gea, Darmian, Chris Smalling and Luke Shaw there is the basis of a sound defence. Ahead of them Schneiderlin offers a genuine shield, where a combination of Bastian Schweinsteiger or Michael Carrick, and Ander Herrera, could provide both experience and a badly needed sense of dynamism. Herrera’s injury has done much to emphasise the need for more of the Spaniard’s energy in the squad.

The system would also allow a more balanced front-three: a combination of Memphis, Martial and a speedy right-winger that the club does not yet own. This was no more obvious than in the Reds’ recent match against West Ham United, with Juan Mata often drifting inside, forcing United down the left and eventually into poor crossing positions.

Still, the hypothetical set-up also emphasizes the need to spend in January. Reinforcements of the right quality are essential if Van Gaal is to take anything from this season. And while many of the Dutchman’s problems are of his own making, the club’s challenges run deeper than the manager alone.


Peter Konasiewicz - December 11, 2015 Reply

It has only now dawned that Woodward is the one driving the transfers?

timbo - December 11, 2015 Reply

Well, the implied point is that Rooney has no place in the side, and that is perfectly true – he is hindering it very badly, and one has to wonder why the author didn’t elaborate on that point, as well as questioning his ongoing presence in the team and LVG’s constant defense of the player. Rooney’s use-by date was up seasons ago, back when the penny finally dropped for Fergie and he started to largely bench him and let RVP have his head up front in what was a stellar season for the Dutch player, unencumbered as he was by Rooney’s massive limitations and penchant for squeezing the life out of strike partners. United would be far better off accepting Martial’s learning curve in the EPL, as they did with Ronaldo, and give him the playing time up front that he needs to fully develop. That means shipping Rooney out, captain or not.

Ray - December 12, 2015 Reply

@adamjoseph_27 Every nail hit right on the head…this shambles demonstrates the genius of Sir Alex and Gill who worked miracles

Drew Snow - December 12, 2015 Reply

Gill’s miracles – what would these be? Can’t think of one off the top of my head.

ǝʞıɯlǝʇɹɐɔ - December 12, 2015 Reply

bravo. The best read I can remember in a long time. You’ve nailed it

Nemesis - December 12, 2015 Reply

LVGs sophomoric pragmatism consistently fails to unearth our best squad with depressing consistency. Good read.

Ben - December 12, 2015 Reply

Soporific, not sophomoric

Ed - December 12, 2015 Reply

True, although this is Van Gaal’s second year so we can give Nemesis a pass on the mistake!

Osazuwa - December 12, 2015 Reply

how can manager dose not believe himself. …saying u can’t expect winning from utd….god I hate this weak vanger too poor and easily give up when the match is not play already. .that is how weak vanger is..sack dead vanger….

Osazuwa - December 12, 2015 Reply

how can manager dose not believe himself. …saying u can’t expect winning from utd….god I hate this weak vanger too poor and easily give up when the match is not play already. .that is how weak vanger is..sack dead vanger….go go

PK - December 12, 2015 Reply

Agree with all your points. That said, our problems run even deeper than all that you have shared above. There have been several articles written about our youth setup being, well, no longer quite up to the mark. Our production line that produced the likes of Scholes, Giggs, Beckham, the Neville brothers is frankly broken. We are producing average players and this downward trend started during the latter years of Fergie’s era. Let’s be honest – the likes of Wellbeck weren’t exactly breathtaking footballers. The emphasis on training as opposed to buying is now lost with all the monies that has come into the game. When the monies go, and believe you me that they will someday, what will United be left with? United is spending ridiculous sums on average players as opposed to investing that money in making our youth setup world class once again. Bring in world class coaches from the continent and upgrade the infrastructure so we are the envy of our noisy neighbours once again as it is sadly vice-versa now. Else we may as well brace ourselves for 10-15 years of mediocrity.

ForeverRed - December 12, 2015 Reply

Knocked out of 2 of 4 competitions by the beginning of December. Squad down to the bare bones, before the hectic holiday period has even begun. It’s clear that arrogant LvG has grossly underestimated what is needed to navigate the frenzied English fixture list with its intensity and no winter break. Does Giggs, his only close advisor with first hand knowledge of the English game, get any say on recruitment, player outgoings, and squad rotation? If this were Moyes, he would have been kicked out by now.

nana yaw - December 12, 2015 Reply

he new the challenges that were awaiting him, the problem at hand and yet took them lightly thinking the German league, LA liga and the eridivise are just like the EPL, all these players were brought in at his request so why can’t he balance the team, how much must we spend to rebuild, Woodward and Van Gaal needs to revisit the drawing board.

NazManUnited - December 12, 2015 Reply

@adamjoseph_27 The worlds best don’t want to play for LVG he’s anti football tactics are depressing

Fusilli Jerry - December 12, 2015 Reply

Woodward inherited Moyes’s appointment and had no personal credibility vested in the Everton man. Van Gaal by contrast was Woodward’s doing, so has latitude from his Executive Vice-Chairman.

We can only speculate about who drove which transfers, none of us actually know, but my own reading of summer 2014’s fateful trolley dash is that di Maria was indeed the manager’s choice, whilst the rip-off price and add-on (Falco) were Mendes and Woodward’s doing. Fast forward to this season’s weekly unattributed briefings about Ronaldo, Bale, Neymar – they have the ring of serving/stemming from Woodward’s commercial team based in Mayfair.

But let’s not pretend Woodward had input into other decisions now hurting United on the pitch: decisions on Hernandez, Wilson, Januzaj (not as good as Lingard apparently), swapping out the occasionally rash but good going forward da Silva for the occasionally rash and hopeless going forward Darmian, replacing Nani’s wasteful decision-making with Depay’s wasteful decision-making, etc.

As for the Croxteth enigma – the captain’s undroppable status from the starting XI despite his continued horrible form: I always used to deride suggestions that Rooney’s automatic selection was a clause in his contract, but have since come to recall what we read about that deal at the time. 250k a week basic, another 50k a week through endorsements to be sourced and negotiated on behalf of the player by United employees (independent of those endorsements arranged directly by Rooney’s agent).

So yes, Woodward’s business imperatives play a big part, I think, in the club’s “football” decisions, but no more so than van Gaal’s own second-rate thinking. And when the latter truly starts damaging a global brand hitherto associated with excitement and entertainment, the spreadsheets in Mayfair will say it’s time to change. The question is whether that lagging economic indicator comes through quickly enough or not to head off a contracted 3rd season of nil-nil process and philosophy.

Subterranean Steve - December 13, 2015 Reply

Good stuff FJ.

All speed to those lagging economic indicators.

Manqoba_Da Conqueror - December 12, 2015 Reply

You wrote things i scream about on my sofa or been cryin about 4 years! #LVG talks sh!t also

SKW - December 12, 2015 Reply

Schweinsteiger might be bringing intangibles but his performances are poor imitations of Nicky Butt’s worst years.

And I wonder too when we all admit that Mata, however much or little we like him as a concept of a player, has essentially been Kagawa’d and not lived up to half the player he was at Chelsea.

So yes, there are big problems. Rooney is crocked. Crocked for sure. And we won’t sell him because there is no way we are buying two strikers this summer. We’ll get one. Maybe. So it will be Rooney, Martial and ____. Want to guess what happens?

Martial and Depay split time out right, Rooney at 10, new guy at nine….and nothing changes.

Denton Davey - December 12, 2015 Reply

Too much pessimism. The glass might only be half-full but it’s better than 18 months ago which is kinda amazing considering the wholesale turnover of the squad and the recent tsunami of injuries. If TheLads win today, they’re still in the top-3/4.

Denton Davey - December 12, 2015 Reply

Not enough pessimism.

That was just awful; indeed, it just gets more and more unbearable to watch – kinda like an endless Groundhog Day.

Subterranean Steve - December 12, 2015 Reply

Tis the season to be jolly, fa la la la la, la la la la.

Well it would be if we weren’t stuck with Demolition Man and his wrecking ball.

Re-building indeed – bah humbug.

Ralph C - December 13, 2015 Reply

The first team has potentially 6 players starting that are in their first full season – Martial, Depay, Darmian, Schweinsteiger, Schneiderlin, and Lindgard – of these 4 are from another culture, 4 are young.

We were always going to run the risk of some or all of them not hitting the ground running and not adjusting at once. To say Van Gaal is in his second season etc… is not really fair considering that point alone. Vidic and Evra needed a season to adjust. This is what can happen when you change half the team, and Rooney’s form goes AWOL.

The attacking fare they serve up these days is abysmal, and we really should be better than this. But personally, I’d give Van Gaal more time to sort it out on account of half the first team being new.

Sack him if he fails top 4, that’s only fair to Moyes. But all things considered, probably premature to speak of changing the manager with the title in reach in the league and the FA Cup to come. Mind you, those will slip away in a hurry if we keep playing like this.

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