Unlike his bedroom antics Van Gaal’s taste for youth is far from singular

May 2, 2016 Tags: , Reads 27 comments
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You know the meme about Christian Grey’s unconventional tastes? It could well be due an update following Louis van Gaal’s revealing interview in the aftermath of Manchester United’s draw with Leicester City at the weekend. Pulling hair, says the Dutchman, is allowed in “sex masochism” but not on the pitch – this despite Robert Huth’s best efforts to put Marouane Fellaini off his A-game. Fellaini hit the Leicester defender where it hurts, though nobody was sure whether Huth actually likes that sort of thing. Either way, it was hardly a lover’s touch.

On the pitch United’s performance was far more conventional than Van Gaal’s interview technique, albeit a little more open than has been the case for much of the Dutchman’s two years in charge. Conservatism is normally the watchword, although the Reds created 21 chances against Claudio Ranieri’s title chasers. Sexy stuff. Well, sort of.

Yet, in drawing at home, United slipped just a little further away from Champions League qualification, despite Manchester City’s heavy defeat at Southampton. After all, with just three games to go, United will probably need to win all of them in order to claw back the Blues’ four point lead and superior goal difference.

It was a United side set-up in the 4-3-3 formation that has proven a little more effective in recent weeks, if still not fully convincing. Much as in the Reds’ Wembley FA Cup semi-final victory over Everton, United owed a little to luck against Leicester, with referee Michael Oliver missing Fellaini’s elbow on Huth, together with Wayne Rooney’s blatant tug on Demarai Gray, which should have earned a second yellow card, and Marcos Rojo’s foul inside the box on Ryad Mahrez.

The selection, although a little more open and ambitious, was also notable for its lack of youth. Where Cameron Borthwick-Jackson, Guillermo Varela, and Timothy Fosu-Mensah once stepped, in came Marcos Rojo and Antonio Valencia. An uninspiring choice, with neither truly deserving a place in Van Gaal’s side, let alone a shot at the FA Cup final in three week’s time.

Dig deeper into the Dutchman’s famed faith in youth and it appears a little skin-deep. Much as many fans suspected, Van Gaal’s youthful outlook might just have been a useful crutch with injuries rampant and results poor at times this season. And as the injury crisis has cleared, so Van Gaal has returned to the tried and trusted, no matter how poor the performances. Unless injuries and suspensions bite, then Marcus Rashford and Jesse Lingard are likely to be the only academy products that start the FA Cup final against Crystal Palace on 21 May.

Famously, Van Gaal has proffered debuts to 14 academy products over the past two seasons, while integrating young players into his team from the off, including Tyler Blackett on the opening day of the 2014/15 season.

Rashford, of course, has contributed much to Van Gaal’s youthful narrative. The Wythenshawe-born forward only made his debut for the club against Midtylland in February, scoring twice and then adding five more in 15 games this season. The 18-year-old is now a fixture in the side, relegating Anthony Martial to the wing and Wayne Rooney to central midfield.

Similarly, Lingard has forced his way into Van Gaal’s first team this season just as it began to look like the 23-year-old may never make it at Old Trafford. Lingard’s 33 games in all competitions is bettered only by Martial among the younger cohort at United.

Then there is the aforementioned Borthwick-Jackson, Fosu-Mensah and Varela, who have each played some part this season, with 12, nine and 11 games respectively. Meanwhile, Martial, Luke Shaw and Memphis Depay add to a more youthful looking squad than the one left by Ferguson in 2013, albeit the combined transfer fee for that trio could top £100 million.


Van Gaal, of course, stokes the narrative, claiming success for the development of Xavi Hernandez, Thomas Muller and David Alaba, among another. The Dutchman also claims strategy, and not the ill-fortune of injury, is behind the influx of youth during his time in Manchester.

“We had a small squad at the beginning of the season because you can then give chances to the young players,” the Dutchman told MUTV.

“I’m always really convinced of youth players and how they can stimulate the other players and raise the atmosphere in the dressing room. Those kinds of things are happening now.”

This narrative is well known of course. Yet, it is those who have gone missing that may tell a more illustrative story. After all, only Rashford, Lingard, Paddy McNair, James Wilson, and Adnan Januzaj have played more than 15 matches in any one campaign. None in both of Van Gaal’s seasons in Manchester. Many of Van Gaal’s academy debutants have joined the team with more senior players on the sidelines and not in place of them.

As it stands McNair, Wilson and Januzaj may never play for the club again if Van Gaal remains at Old Trafford beyond the summer. Januzaj has featured in just six games this season – a pitiful return two years on from his breakthrough campaign under David Moyes. This is not entirely Van Gaal’s fault, with Januzaj joining Borussia Dortmund against the manager’s wishes, while some question the player’s attitude. Yet, the inability of the coach to get the best out of a mercurial attacking talent is frustrating, although not without precedent, as Memphis Depay, Angel Di Maria and Andreas Pereira may well attest.

McNair has found opportunities sparse this season too, despite a promising début campaign last year, while the composed Blackett was shipped out to Celtic on-loan for the season and not recalled despite Shaw breaking his leg back in September. Wilson has spent the season at Championship club Brighton & Hove Albion.

Wilson, Blackett and McNair played 17, 12 and 18 games for the club last season. The number reads two, zero and nine 12 months on. None can be guaranteed a future at United whether the manager remains  beyond the summer or not. Where Van Gaal has offered opportunities, he has also taken them away.

"Dig deeper into the Dutchman’s faith in youth and it appears a little skin-deep. Van Gaal’s youthful outlook might have been a useful crutch with injuries rampant and results poor. As the injury crisis cleared, so Van Gaal has returned to the tried and trusted."

Meanwhile, this season Borthwick-Jackson, Varela and Fosu-Mensah have played when injuries hit, only to be dropped when more senior men returned. In the case of Fosu-Mensah, eight excellent performances were followed by one dodgy outing against Everton in the FA Cup semi-final. Van Gaal dropped his countryman at the first opportunity and the 18-year-old may not feature again before the season ends.

Others have come and quickly gone. Michael Keane, Reece James, Saidy Janko, Marnick Vermijl and Tom Thorpe each played at some point under Van Gaal. None remain at the club. Pereira is still a United player, but has seen little action despite an outstanding season for the under-21s. In keeping with Varela, the suspicion is strong that Van Gaal simply does not trust flighty, creative South Americans.

It leaves, perhaps, Rashford, Lingard, Borthwick-Jackson and Fosu-Mensah as the only academy products likely to be included in a Van Gaal squad for the 2016/17 season – if the Dutchman remains beyond May. None of the quartet is guaranteed a place in a José Mourinho, of course, if the Portuguese joins the club as appears increasingly likely.

Should Van Gaal go this summer he will leave as a huge disappointment, although with the narrative of youth resonating for many. Whatever the doubts about many young players’ future at least Rashford’s innate quality appears to be one for the ages – a player for whom Van Gaal may well take credit in the years to come.

Then again, with so many younger players also falling by the wayside under the Dutchman, Van Gaal leaves the suspicion that his desires are… well, perfectly conventional. Pragmatic to the core.


Dayusdred - May 2, 2016 Reply

Wonder what your point is. Apparently you are one of those who never saw anything good in whatever Lvg does. We were lucky yesterday? You read out all the incidents that should have gone against but failed to mention the ones that should have been in our favour such as simpsons foul on Lingard that could have a sent off, Memphis penalty that wasn’t given, Huth pull on Felliani’s air to mention but a few. You also talked about those that haven’t made under him as if all the players signed or given a debut by a coach must necessarily succeed under the coach. This team is by no means a finished article but it has made progress since early march. Lvg has nothing proof by playing youth when he could have spent his way out of trouble. Wether you like it or not, Lvg narrative shall always be that of a coach who gives youth a chance wherever he went. The testimonies of players such as Egar Davies, seedoff, kanu, Ininesta and numerous other players including those you mentioned in your article will be far more important than what people like you thought of him. What ever happened at United, his place among coaches is secured.

Ed - May 3, 2016 Reply

The point (it seemed clear to me) is that the narrative about Van Gaal’s faith in youth is misleading and convenient. But for injuries Van Gaal wouldn’t have turned to younger players at all, and many (most) have been dropped pretty quickly.

Yes, United were lucky against Leicester.

Hammered by Spurs, narrow win against Everton, draw at home to Leicester, dumped out of Europe. United’s 10 game form places the team fifth. Progress?

He did spend his way out of trouble – to the tune of around £250m.

People “like me”? What’s that then… please explain. The word “you” was used six times in this comment. Seems like it is *you* that has the problem and the agenda, not me.

Luke J - May 3, 2016 Reply

I think you are both correct at points, the view of van gaal playing youth is convinient and somehwat misleading however it is good point that he cannot take responsibility for every player not making it into the team regularly (James, Powell) but he must take responsibility for others not being played (borthwick-jackson).

Also do you guys believe the clearout of young players (nearly all of whom were 21 and over) was due to his belief that if your good enough you will pushing for first team at a younger age? His culling of the first team was also done with the knowledge of our players frailty, can his small squad be a purposeful tactic to introduce a couple of youngsters? With the anomoly of this seasons injuries it seems a highly dangerous tactic but during the phase of a normal season could this have proved to be a subtle method to introduce only the best youngsters to first team football?

(Ed, props for engaging with your audience. Not many take the time to do it)

Ed - May 3, 2016 Reply

@Luke. I always do. Do still find it odd that after 12 years of running this site some people still want to turn a conversation into a personal attack when it’s just opinions on a page.

reds4life - May 3, 2016 Reply

Is JM really coming to United? I mean LVG says he be here nex season and on the same day Journalists saying JM already looking for a house in Manchester. I mean unless we having two managers maybe three plus Giggys. then I wanna know exactly what’s going on…two or one of those three will have to be disappointed though.

ManUtdBoy - May 3, 2016 Reply

If we get into Champions League (by pipping Man City and/or Arsenal but looks like overtaking City is the only realistic chance) and winning the FA Cup, I can see the board sticking with LVG for next season. If one or both of the above isn’t met then I think LVG will be sacked and will be interesting to see what direction, if any, the board takes and who will join Utd as manager.

However, if LVG stays or if the next Manager promotes “Youth” I would really like to have youth players as the core with a few senior players to lead them. Quite a few senior players this season will have to leave in order to make room for youth. If this means we will only get 7th place or so, I would still be proud of Utd than having a team of senior players playing boring football and only throw in youth when injuries arise.

Below Senior players should be let go:

1) Rojo
2) Valencia
3) Jones
4) Carrick (Thank you for your service!)
5) Fellaini
6) Mata (Harsh but sadly, he’s not fitting into LVG’s system, if it’s another manager then may be stay)
7) Herrera (same as above)
8) Romero
9) Young (hasn’t done much wrong, in fact, been playing better than expected but rather have him sold in order to promote more youth opportunities)

Team 16/17 should look like:
GK: De Gea / Pereira
RB: Varela / Darmian
CB: Smalling/ Blind/ McNair/ Youth Player
LB: Shaw/ Borthwick-Jackson
MF: Rooney (C) / Schweinsteiger/ Schneiderlin/ Fosu-Mensah/ Sanches??
Wingers/ AM: Martial/ Depay (C’mon, give him another year!)/ Lingard/ Januzaj/ Pereira / Chong ??/ may be one world class player to lead in the no. 10 role (NO ROONEY PLEASE)
FW: Rashford/ Wilson

If this team can do what Spurs did this season, entertainment plus good fight for the title, it’ll be a successful season! But as mentioned above, even if we only become 7th or so, I would still be proud if youth is placed 1st in the team setup.

Dayusdred - May 3, 2016 Reply

@Ed, am hardly surprise about your criticism of Lvg. You did it under Fergie, Moyes and am sure you will do it again no matter who takes over. Now talking about convenience, you always reel out stats that are convenient for your argument. I asked u, if u say United were lucky what do you say about Leicester?. United were hammered by spur but United beat city, liverpool, Arsenal between january and now. United were dumped out of europe, so were Barca and others. Its convenient for you to quote 250M spent but not to mention players sold and the amount of money safed from wages of players he let go. During the Fergie era you always talked about net spending. It will be interesting if you can do a piece about United net spending since Lvg took over. We all follow United and we want United success, but we differ when you don’t see anything but negative about the club whether its the players, coaches or Management. As for the Lvg narative about youth that you said is misleading, i made bould to say it was delibrate. I remember when he signed Martial instead of Pedro, people called him clueless. Now we know better. When he let Rvp, Falcao, chicarito, Dimaria Nani go, he could have brought in experience but he opted for youth. There were no injuries in Ajax, Barca and Beryern when he gave those youths their chances. So what he is doing @ United is not new to him. Its been part of his coaching life.

Ed - May 3, 2016 Reply

Interesting how *you* appear to want to make this about me – 9x use of the word in the latest comment. It’s not about me. I have an opinion about football, I set up a website, I write words and put it on the internet. That’s all. There’s no X-Files conspiracy or grand plan. Anyone can do the same. It’s a good plan if you find this site too negative for your tastes.

bobby noble - May 3, 2016 Reply

LVG said Martial was bought for the future, ‘for the next manager’. Doesn’t look that way.
The guy is full of bullshit.

gigs11 - May 3, 2016 Reply

ed, you provide a great service, take it all with a pinch of salt 🙂

Sam - May 4, 2016 Reply

Ed, speaking as someone who got blocked by the United Redcast Twitter account for presumably being too negative, your conduct definitely doesn’t fit the narrative this guy is trying to create.

karlo - May 4, 2016 Reply

I think people are just pissed off by your negativity ed its getting to a point where it seems like you prefer us to be in a dire position , but your totally entitled to your opinion , in the case of Van Gaal`s use of youth players being a falsehood does it not seem pretty obvious that the squad was left short of numbers to give the youth a chance injuries or not over the course of a season the squad size would of provided greater opportunities to the young players. I also think even if we miss out on the top four and win the cup Van Gaal should be allowed see out his contract the football this season might not have been exciting but the team being assembled looks very exciting and with the players brought in last summer having the experience of a full season under their belts this team could really challenge next season

Ed - May 4, 2016 Reply

@Karlo I prefer us to be in a dire position? I’ve been going to United games home, away and in Europe for 30 years. You? Exactly. I think many people would tell you exactly where to go with a comment like that. It’s childish and pathetic, delivered bravely from behind a keyboard.

I created this website, take the time to run it and write, and couldn’t care less whether you, Dayusdred or anyone else agree with me or not. I don’t edit people’s comments at all, but you are so far off base when you question my motives. Please understand when I tell you EXACTLY where you can shove that comment.

Ben - May 4, 2016 Reply

Ed’s piece was moderate in tone. van Gaal’s team and tactical selections are as baffling today as they were at the beginning of last season, and the results he achieves through them as mediocre. He is a bluffer and he has done a very poor job. Shaw, De Gea, Martial, Mensah and Rashford are the only players who’ve played regularly who merit staying at the club. It is a poor squad, chaotically coached.

Fusilli Jerry - May 4, 2016 Reply

Dayusdred: as Ed suggests, you’d probably be happier posting on another site (and rather than Rant readers just scrolling past your comments as soon as we see your name – as at present – we wouldn’t see your comments at all).

You wouldn’t need to set up a new site though: there are United forums already out there where supporters know their place, that place being not to criticise the manager in any way, because if a critical supporter’s thoughts were valid, how come they’re not the manager rather than a “plastic” (aka The Ray Houghton Theorem).

Some of those forums being in your native language as well.

Rich - May 4, 2016 Reply

Still asking the question: did LVG deliberately keep the squad small, or did Ed Woodward fuck up with Bale, Ramos, Ronaldo, etc?

Were youth given a chance because of a freakish amount injuries? Even Martial was only given early opportunities because Rooney was out. Doubt very much VG anticipated the scale of injuries.

There may well be voices within the club that feel strongly that VG should stay, and maybe they have a point for reasons that we cannot see. Maybe there is something developing behind the scenes.

But this is not evident on the pitch. Every sign of progress has been followed with dismal confused performances. That’s why almost every United fan wants Van Gaal to leave.

Once it’s announced he’s going we can all celebrate him. There’s a lot to love and yes there are positives to take, but those positives need to wait until after the break up, not during.

Ralph C - May 4, 2016 Reply

“Still asking the question: did LVG deliberately keep the squad small, or did Ed Woodward fuck up with Bale, Ramos, Ronaldo, etc?”

Sir, that is a fantastic question that I wish more of the media and more fan commentators out there would consider.

The thing one has to understand about Van Gaal, from what I gather about him, is that he says the PC things all the time. ‘Keeping the squad small so young players have a chance’ might just be positive spin to distract from the fact that somebody has failed to bring the big hitters in. Nonetheless, it is now apparently a stick that people want to beat him with.

As far as the question of whether he does deserve the credit for the youth, or if that’s just the PC thing, I think it’s a bit of both. He did have no options, but he did use them in the end. Sometimes discoveries in the scientific world are entirely accidental, but still you don’t deny who made the discovery, who gave them a shot. So it’s a bit of a sham, who cares? How many top level stars did Fergie integrate into the squad long term after ’92, not really a lot either. Let’s just enjoy Rashford.

All said, Van Gaal does have a) The second-best home record behind Leicester, b) second best defence behind Spurs and c) best home defence in the league. Objectively, that is not doing nothing or a bad job at all. Just not the job we want. Like most, I would trade it in an instant to play like we used to do. But still, he has left something to build on.

The team may in fact be ready for the arrival of another Cantona figure to orchestrate and inspire the attack, or maybe even simply time for the likes of Memphis to settle, the attack to gel more, and Luke Shaw to return to form. The defence certainly seems to be somewhat in place on the strength of those stats.

Dayusdred - May 4, 2016 Reply

@ fusili Jerry, i think Ed is brave enough to fight his corner without you. It’s within my right to disagree with any opinion and it’s within your right not to read my comment. It’s never about individuals but about the opinion they put in the public domain. We have different perpectives about issues and it becomes a problem when you can’t accommodate other people’s opinion.

Ed - May 4, 2016 Reply

@Dayusdred then why did you try and make it about me. 15 occasions in your two comments the word “you” was used. You could have simply argued with the opinion, that’s all cool. But you made a sweeping statements about my motivation and agenda. Yours? No idea, *you’re* just another anonymous face in the internet crowd.

Dayusdred - May 4, 2016 Reply

@ Ralph-C, couldn’t have said it better. “we have somthing to buld on”. Here may come next season, a Cantona, a Carrick or a Teves as it happened in ’92 and ’06/07 to kick start another winning era. Lets keep the faith.

Dayusdred - May 5, 2016 Reply

@ Ed, think we can engage ourselves in discusion without insults which is what you have been doing whenever someone disagrees with you. Just because you set up the site doesn’t mean people will always agree with your opinion. Some will and some will not. That does not take anything away from you. Like i said in my earlier comments, its not about you but about the opinion you put in public domain that is being subjected to scrutiny. Am sure you have had cause to critic someone else’s opinion. The fact is opinion can be skewed depending on what our intentions are. That is why we United fans labelled some people ABU because they don’t always have balance opinion about us. I appreciate the efforts you put into running this site but that will not stop me from having a different opinion from yours whenever the need arises. And this will be my final word on this isssue. Peace.

bobby noble - May 6, 2016 Reply

At last -the end.

Ed - May 6, 2016 Reply

@Daryusdred show me these “insults”? Go on. Any. No? Didn’t think so. As I said disagree all you want, 100% of the time of you like, although I’d wonder why you’d bother, comments are not moderated, but you decided to make this about me and my apparently secret motivations. You’re wrong and it’s a lame accusation based on the lack of depth in any argument you have.

Opti - May 6, 2016 Reply

LvG could have used Rafael and Park Ji-Sung in midfield instead of Pogba… oh wait!

Ed - May 6, 2016 Reply

One of Fergie’s biggest failures

@homez213 - May 9, 2016 Reply

I believe there is an error on the appearances table, Jesse Lingard played the first game of the 2014/15 season in which he got injured.

dlc - May 9, 2016 Reply

lvg should go

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