Van Gaal spotlight shields struggling stars

February 29, 2016 Tags: , , Reads 4 comments
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No matter how fans receive the news, Louis van Gaal is often the headline. Twitter, Facebook, the Internet; the Dutchman fills plenty of column inches. And whether it’s a focus on the process, philosophy or the recent bizarre remarks about keeping his players “horny,” Van Gaal is bursting with quotes. The downside is the same regurgitated stories, recycled and reworded with a new angle to keep the speculation-driven media happy. Meanwhile, the headlines shift fans’ minds off the players, who for much of the season have failed their manager and club.

Squad reconstruction has done Van Gaal’s players no favours, with a club policy driven by commercialism. Meanwhile, the manager spoke of his preference for a small squad at the start of the season and it has backfired, with depth poor and departing players not adequately replaced. The departures of Danny Welbeck, Javier Hernandez and others were justified last summer, but the decision not to replace them is a major factor in the team’s poor form this season. Overtraining is often cited as the main reason behind the current injury crisis.

There is upside: the startling number of players that have come through the academy and been thrust into the first team. Guillermo Varela, Donald Love, Cameron Borthwick-Jackson – who has been a revelation – Will Keane and Joe Riley have all been called upon at one time or another, with Jesse Lingard a bona-fide first team player amidst the severe injury crisis that has hit Old Trafford in 2016. Marcus Rashford has now scored four times in two games as a starter.

Yet, there is also a serious amount of pressure on young players to sustain the club’s challenge – points dropped because of inexperience and inconsistency is the unfortunate downside of a reliance on youth.

Younger players have plenty of time to gain experience, but their more senior are those who have been found wanting. In defeats to teams such as Middlesbrough in the Capital One Cup, cellar-dwellers Bournemouth, Norwich City and Sunderland, it was first team stars who were found wanting. After all, an injury crisis asks for senior members to stand tall – and too few have done that.

The result is clear – the closer the season moves on towards the summer, the more the focus will turn to failing players. Anthony Martial, David De Gea – whose future may still lie in Madrid – Chris Smalling, Morgan Schneiderlin and, perhaps, Luke Shaw will be able to sleep soundly. That quintet’s future is mostly secure, whether Van Gaal finds a way to survive in his job or not. But all signs point to the Dutchman being shown the door at season’s end, and there’s little doubt that a number of players will quickly follow him out the door.

José Mourinho, Ryan Giggs, or an as yet unnamed candidate, will almost certainly take control in the summer – and once again there will be a busy transfer period to follow. Yet, it is simply not realistic to expect yet another full clear-out with so much expenditure already undertaken; whoever gets the role is not going to buy a new first team. After all, no club can expect to undertake that sort of turnover every summer and become a Premier League contender.

Plenty will not rest easy as the summer approaches, including Phil Jones. Another season has passed the Englishman by – one in which he turned 24. He is unlikely to enjoy his 25th birthday in Manchester. The main question surrounding the ex-Blackburn Rovers player is just how much has he improved in the five years he has been at the club? Not much. And with 32 injuries suffered during his time at the club it is clear where the blame for the lack of progress lies.

The central defender has never started more than 26 games in a Premier League campaign, and averages just 21.5 starts in the league per season since signing in 2011. With only six in this season so far, despite the team’s incredibly poor depth in his position of choice, Jones is running out of chances at the club.

Last summer Jones signed a contract extension through to 2019, but it is unlikely to protect him, helping only to secure his employers a better fee – if anyone will stump up. And while United fans feel an affection for the club’s English players, it is surely time to let Jones go.

Antonio Valencia may already be closer to the exit than his teammate. Recovering from a broken foot that has kept the Ecuadorian on the sidelines since November, and turning 31 at the start of next season, Valencia is a long way from the player that racked up four goals and 13 assists in 27 appearances in 2011/12. The Ecuadorian once carved out a reputation as one of the best wingers in the division – it’s now a ridiculous assertion. In fact it’s now a miracle if Valencia’s crossing beats the first defender and he shapes up as a prime candidate for a cheap sale to a lesser club.

Elsewhere, the forever underrated Michael Carrick presents a different case to Valencia and Jones. Out of contract in the summer, and not short of suitors, the Englishman is starting to feel the effects of niggling injuries that have hampered his past two seasons. There’s interest from the USA, China and domestic rivals, and with United’s experienced midfielder turning 35 in July, now might be the time to try his luck abroad. It’s becoming more likely that scenario becomes reality regardless of managerial changes.

Also in midfield, Marouane Fellaini’s future has felt sealed for a while. The symbol of post-Ferguson United, the Belgian has become Old Trafford’s principle whipping boy. He represents both the failed David Moyes and Van Gaal eras, and his departure might offer closure on three disastrous years. Fellaini was very close to a move away, on loan, last summer; this one is likely to bring something more permanent.

Jones, Valencia, Carrick and Fellaini are by no means the only players likely to see an Old Trafford exit in the summer, but the rest have probably made a better case for patience. Either way, another summer of transition awaits. Few are guaranteed to make the cut.

4 comments

Julian - February 29, 2016 Reply

It will be interesting to see if this exciting emerging talent will have any effect on whether or not LvG sees out his contract. Mourinho, who has never been terribly concerned with home-grown talent is still not a certainty for next season. It’s incredible really that out of adversity has come a whole new atmosphere at OT. Long may it last.

Emeka - February 29, 2016 Reply

To God be all the glory and praise for our success under van gaal and for our team I thank God for what He has done what He is doing and what He will do for our team under van gaal cos van gaal is the best thing that has happened to us since the last three seasons of SAF till date and may God forbid that mourinho or anyone else will come to destroy the good work that he is doing before his contract is over the worst thing that will happen to us is for van gaal to leave after this season we will be doomed instead of you all to be thanking God for him and the team and also praying for them you all are busy talking rubbish yet none of you can do what van gaal and the boys are doing it is God that gave us victory and the young boys and the entire team it’s God who is also healing the injured players and Him alone will see us through to the end so you all can go to hell I will keep praising and thanking God for my team and also praying for them come what may

Roman - February 29, 2016 Reply

Why are there always morons that insist there is a creator and that he is interested in 22 guys passing a ball around on grass? If prayer ever worked what would be the need for training, management or strategy? Just pray the hardest and you’re guaranteed success. Goddamn, Leicester city fans must be on their knees 24/7! Hogwash!

joe jordans missing teeth - February 29, 2016 Reply

We’ll see how long the success with the youngsters lasts, hopefully 15 years. I think with all the youth LVG has been forced to play doing so well Giggs is becoming a more realistic option for the next gaffer. Players who give a shit about the club and their chance to be a part of it sure seem to be doing better than the some of the mercenary types and some of the veterans who might be a bit too comfortable, maybe a managerial setup that gives a shit might be the answer. LVG and the club have stated that Giggs will be next but the absolute disaster since SAF left has some (myself included) searching for anyone to stop the bleeding, even Mourinho. I know it’s only Fc Mytjbfjashf and Shrewsbury and an Arsenal who routinely shit the bed, but this little run has flooded the United world with optimism for the first time in ages. Could it be possible that after all the doom and gloom we could be on the brink of the next great generation of youngsters with Giggs at the helm, it would be a dream!
By the way the bloke above me sure gives George Best a lot of credit for our turn around.

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