Van Gaal’s rotten transfer legacy: 13 players, five departures and lots of questions
Bastian Schweinsteiger’s long-proposed move to Chicago Fire was finally completed this week, with the German heading Stateside ahead of the new MLS season. The World Cup winner left with a classy parting message to Manchester United fans and seemingly no bitterness, despite what has been a difficult and unproductive 18 months at Old Trafford. Schweinsteiger’s departure means that five of Louis van Gaal’s 10 signings as United manager have now left the club. Of those who remain perhaps only two can be considered successful, each with caveats attached. It is a truly rotten legacy.
Van Gaal’s time at United was characterised by a scattergun, often contradictory, agent-driven approach to improving and evolving United’s squad. Shiny new toys were bought, whether required or not, and too often acquisitions were based on the recommendation of agents, or a lofty reputation long-since diminished.
"Van Gaal’s time at United was characterised by a scattergun, often contradictory, agent-driven approach to improving and evolving United’s squad. "
Van Gaal’s purchases included two fading stars, Schweinsteiger and Radamel Falcao; three talented youngsters, Memphis Depay, Luke Shaw, and Antony Martial; one bone fide world star at his peak in Angel di Maria; and six squad fillers. Of that group Depay, Di Maria, and Falcao have left, in various degrees of disgrace, while Schweinsteiger and Morgan Schneiderlin were effectively frozen out by Van Gaal’s replacement before being sold, deemed not good enough for the club.
Of those who remain, Luke Shaw is on the periphery, Matteo Darmian, Daley Blind, and Sergio Romero are useful, but limited squad players, while only Marcos Rojo, Ander Herrera, and Anthony Martial are regular starters. Rant delves into the mess that Van Gaal left behind…
Radamel Falcao | AS Monaco ⇒ | Fee £6.46m | Value for Money 1/10 | ⇒ AS Monaco/Chelsea
The Colombian came with a huge reputation, large wage packet and an even larger appendage. Of that trio, only the manhood survived contact with Old Trafford. After two unsuccessful years in England with United and Chelsea, Falcao is back among the leading goalscorers in Ligue 1. But the extent to which Falcao’s legendary sharpness and eye for goal had dismissed by the time he arrived in Manchester cannot be underestimated. The striker scored just four times in 29 appearances for the club, all too often seeming two yards off the pace despite desperately wanting to succeed. This was no last hurrah and cynical pay check; Falcao wanted to be a hit – he just wasn’t good enough, or fit enough. To nobody’s surprise, United failed to take up the second year of the striker’s loan agreement. To everybody’s surprise, Chelsea stepped in to repeat the mistake.
Victor Valdés | Free Agent ⇒ | Free | 2/10 | ⇒ Middlesbrough
Goalkeeper and manager fell out almost as quickly as it took for the former Barcelona player to sign for United. Valdés’ career had been put on hold, with a torn anterior cruciate ligament injury not only ruling the player out of the 2014 FIFA World Cup, but scuppering a proposed move to Monaco. Van Gaal first offered his former Barcelona colleague time training with the club, and then a permanent contract. If Valdés was supposed to challenge David de Gea he did not. The ‘keeper certainly didn’t want to be sat on the bench, and it wasn’t long before the Spaniard was consigned to training with the reserve team. The ignomy of a loan spell in Belgian football followed, before a summer transfer to Middlesbrough where Valdés is rebuilding a once great career.
Memphis Depay | PSV Eindhoven ⇒ | £28.90m | 2/10 | ⇒ Olympique Lyonnaise
Having scored 27 goals in the Eredivisie during the 2014/15 season, United had seemingly captured one of world football’s brightest talents. The Reds were not shy in letting it be known that the club had beaten petro-wealth plaything Paris Saint Germain to the Dutchman’s signature. After hubris comes the fall. Talented though Memphis may be, the Dutchman found it impossible to recreate his Eredivisie success in the Premier League. Having become a small fish in a much bigger pond, Memphis didn’t get the ball enough, and when he, didn’t do enough with it despite that talent. Off the pitch, flash cars, parties, and a seemingly lavish lifestyle offered very poor optics. Neither United supporters nor Mourinho were impressed. The player’s positive start to life at new club Lyon suggests all that latent talent not fully extinguished. Perhaps the French club can justify the €20 million fee.
Ángel Di María | Real Madrid ⇒ | £63.75m | 4/10 | ⇒ Paris Saint Germain
It took Di Maria hardly any time at all to establish that he was the best player in Van Gaal’s squad. The Argentinian came with a huge reputation as a creative tour-de-force in the middle of Real Madrid’s central midfield. Those few early performances suggested that he could repeat it at Old Trafford. Yet, it didn’t take too much longer to realise that Di Maria was that tour-de-force only when he wanted to be. Granted, the player probably never wanted the move to United in the first place, nor did a break-in at his house aid with a difficult period of acclimatisation. Van Gaal’s bizarre use of a world-class talent in almost every position in the team didn’t help either. In the end there was little that United could do bar sell the player on at a significant loss.
Luke Shaw | Southampton ⇒ | £31.88m | 4/10
Shaw has all the natural talent to become one of the finest full-backs in football. Luck hasn’t always come his way, not least with that horrific leg break against PSV Einhoven in the Champions League 18 months ago, together with a raft of minor injury problems that never allow for a consistent run in the team. Yet, there is too much in the accusations of lack of fitness and lack of application to ignore. Shaw recovered from that double fracture, but he has not yet matured as an athlete or a professional. It is taking far too long for the penny to drop, and Mourinho is far from impressed. There were times this season when Mourinho has pointed the way, and yet Shaw is still unable to break back into the United side. A divorce this summer appears to be increasingly likely. It will be a very sad conclusion if that is the case.
Bastian Schweinsteiger | Bayern Munich ⇒ | £7.65m | 5/10 | ⇒ Chicago Fire
See above. Schweinsteiger offered plenty of classy moments at United, but not enough to justify his place in the squad. The pointing was pretty good, as was his obvious leadership. The German international was, perhaps, the right player at the wrong time. If only he had joined United a few years earlier when the club’s midfield was truly short of world-class performers. Having suffered one too many injuries, Schweinsteiger arrived in Manchester a little too far off the pace during his début campaign for United. There can be little surprised that Mourinho, a coach who values physicality more than most, ditched the midfielder with little ceremony. Classy man, who was once a classy player. Good luck in MLS.
Morgan Schneiderlin | Southampton ⇒ | £29.75m | 5/10
There were a few eyebrows raised when United spent the best part of £30 million on the former Southampton player. Schneiderlin’s industry is to be admired, but as more of an attacking talent than a defensive one, plenty had doubts that he could translate his Soton form onto a bigger stage. Van Gaal tried to deploy the Frenchman in a holding role; it didn’t suit the player or United. Schneiderlin’s time at the club was no disaster and United secured a decent fee from Everton this winter, but the original hunch that the player just wasn’t a significant enough improvement on what United already had proved to be correct. There’s a term for buying too many mediocre players for incremental gain: Liverpoolisation. United should steer clear of it, and Schneiderlin’s sale was surely the correct decision.
Matteo Darmian | Torino ⇒ | £15.30m | 6/10
Darmian’s first half-dozen performances for United proved to be a very false dawn. The Italian is a cool head, can operate across the back four and came at a reasonable price. But there’s little quality going forward and the defensive mistakes started to creep into his game during the second half of last season. He has proven a useful squad player, able to perform in either full-back position, but he is not as good as Antonio Valencia or Daley Blind, and has nowhere near the natural talent of Luke Shaw. The Italian remains at the club for now, but a sale to a mid-ranked Serie A side this summer is on the cards. Mediocre squad filler. See warning above.
Marcos Rojo | Sporting ⇒ | £17.00m | 6/10
What an enigma. Rojo’s purchase was seemingly driven by agent Jorge Mendes and not any long-term scouting on United’s part. The former Sporting player enjoyed a strong World Cup 2014 with Argentina, but has produced a highly inconsistent two and a half seasons in Manchester. The player is clearly more comfortable in central defence than at left-back – and in fact this season can lay claim to being United’s most consistent performer in the centre. There are moments of genuine rash play though and he is lucky not to have seen red more often. At left-back Rojo is neither a great defender, nor a good attacker and it is still amusing when he is used in that role. Rojo is probably not good enough to form part of a title-winning back four. For now the recent improvement is welcome.
Sergio Romero | Sampdoria ⇒ | Free transfer | 7/10
Flappy Serge offers the odd heart-stopping moment, but for the most part the club has gained a good quality back-up ‘keeper and a very reasonable price. There were some who suggested the Argentinian World Cup finalist could challenge David de Gea for a place in the United side on a more regular basis. That, of course, was nonsense. Yet, Romero’s consistency, save for a few comedic errors last season, enabled Van Gaal and now Mourinho to rest De Gea in cup matches. Indeed, Romero has been near faultless in his 11 appearances to date this season. Rumours that the player would like a move in search of a more regular starting role may escalate in the summer. Should he move on, Mourinho will do well to find a reserve ‘keeper of equal quality.
Daley Blind | Ajax Amsterdam ⇒ | £14.88m | 7/10
The Dutchman’s composure and flexibility is an asset, although his pace and overall quality remain in question. Used mainly at left-back by Ajax, and in midfield by the national team, and in central defence by Van Gaal, Blind is the modern-day John O’Shea – a jack of all trades, master of none, squad player for the rotation era. That suited Van Gaal well, although Mourinho much prefers specialists in all positions. To that end Blind has been used primarily at left-back this season – it is comfortably his best position and there have been several stand out performances. It would not be a surprise if Mourinho moves the player on in the summer though. United bought Blind at a decent price and should find plenty of suitors across European football. No disaster, but no smash hit either.
Ander Herrera | Athletic Bilbao ⇒ | £30.60m | 8/10
The Spaniard’s energy, tenacity and determination has been put to very good effect by Mourinho this season in a deeper role than any he has taken in his career to date. Used either at eight or 10 by Bilbao, and sometimes on the right side of midfield, Herrera joined United after a protracted transfer negotiation lasting more than a year. Van Gaal seemed unsure about the player, as did Mourinho for some of the early part of this season. Now Herrera is an essential foil for Paul Pogba. There is a question about his long-term role though. Herrera is not quite a pure-play defensive midfielder, nor does he offer the same quality as Pogba at eight. It seems that the Basque is best in a midfield three, and his position and future could be impacted by Mourinho’s summer transfer strategy.
Anthony Martial | AS Monaco ⇒ | £42.50m | 9/10
Martial has not enjoyed the same impact this season as he did last, although there are plenty of mitigating factors to take into account. The Frenchman has been limited to a wide role, when selected, and came off a turbulent summer in which he was supposed to help France win the European Championships – and didn’t. Then personal problems seemingly affected the player’s focus and confidence. Some of that old bravado is returning though, and Mourinho deserves credit for being patient with a player who has all the potential to become a world-class forward for United. The Portuguese manager is not always so with young players. United supporters will hope that Martial’s difficult second season will transform into a very high impact third. It should.
All transfer data: transfermarkt