On May 08th 2013 Sir Alex Ferguson announced he would be retiring. In his 26 years in Manchester he won no fewer than 38 trophies. What he left behind to David “The Chosen One” Moyes was a squad that had just won the league by 11 points from rivals Manchester City.
What has been since then is a rapid decline. Everybody realised replacing Sir Alex was not going to be easy, but it is proving very difficult to all who try it. David Moyes was given a 6 year contract but was sacked after just 10 months, with Ryan Giggs replacing him temporarily.
After the World Cup in Brazil it was announced Luis Van Gaal would take charge but sadly again it does not seem to be working out.
So what exactly is going wrong at Manchester United?
Van Gaal’s tactics are predictable. All opponents know how they will set up, virtually who will play where and how Manchester United are going to try and play. Any team who sets up to press and attack with pace are hurting Manchester United at present. Arsenal is a clear example of this. There is no plan B and Van Gaal’s arrogance and obsession with possession is the downfall at the moment. Players do not seem to want to shoot and want the extra pass or three. This is the criticism that has been thrown at Arsenal over the last few years and is the opposite of how a United team should play. There seems a lack of dynamism. The most successful United teams over the past twenty years have countered at pace, had the confidence to shoot and in particular played with real width (and real wingers). The current side seems to be full of creative players that cannot be creative as they are too compact – this is similar to the issues at Liverpool currently.
Is Van Gaal afraid to make the big decisions? There is more than a hint that Rooney should be dropped for poor form. There is an argument that Mata should play behind Martial where he could be more effective with a more natural winger like Young on the wing.
There seems to be a lack of passion both on and off the field. Van Gaal is very methodical in his approach and watches, which is fine, but nobody on the bench is getting into the players for under performing. At the very least I would expect Ryan Giggs to be jumping up and down on the touchline as surely he is as frustrated as the fans currently. To see Van Gaal, Giggs and Stuivenberg just sat there when losing to Arsenal was not only a shock but confusing. On the pitch seems the same which is strange for a squad with Wayne Rooney in it. I am not questioning his leadership skills at all. In fact it appears he does bring the dressing room together from what you hear. The issue is no one on the field seems to want to take responsibility for anyone but themselves. In the treble winning side of 1999 Keane was captain, but Schmeichael, Stam, Neville, Beckham, Giggs would all issue instructions as well. The current United squad is full of leaders and experience but there seems little communication between the players in game.
The transfer policy of the current regime comes into question as well. This is not solely Van Gaal’s issue however. Ferguson was very lucky that he had David Gill who had contacts and respect. Ed Woodward does not quite seem at that level yet and as such things are not happening as they should. It seems every player of any quality is now linked with an over inflated price and some moves seem desperate. Examples are Moyes could not get anyone through the door so they spent money on Fellaini but more than they would have paid had it have been ten days earlier. Pedro was another that could have happened but Chelsea got him for (in today’s market) a modest sum that Man United would not pay? The players that are brought in need to be questioned also. Di Maria was a massive flop and fans are yet to see anything other than glimpses of Depay’s real quality. Schweinsteiger was brought in this summer. There is no denying he is/was a quality player but essentially he is like for like with Carrick so what was the point when Herrera was already available. Morgan Schneiderlin is the only signing that looks like a Manchester United signing. Even outgoings appear a farce, such as the De Gea situation.
Van Gaal’s player management is constantly being brought into question. He seems to fall out with a lot of players. There were reports of a crisis meeting amongst senior players, Marcos Rojo has seemingly had a disagreement and does not feature anymore. If this is Van Gaal’s style then fine but again, is it a style that does not fit at Manchester United. Ferguson was a strict disciplinarian we know and also had more than one high profile fall out, yet players wanted to play for him – can the same be said of Van Gaal?
A main factor of the success over the past 25 years has been the youth policy at Manchester United and to a degree Van Gaal has stuck to it. Blackett, McNair and Wilson all have been given game time under Van Gaal but this season Janusaj and Blackett have been loaned out and Wilson struggles to get in the squad, despite the lack of strikers at their disposal?
It is not all bad news at United. Van Gaal seems to be getting a better return of form from Fellaini, although you have to question how he is used sometimes. When put as an attacker there is no width to cross the ball to him and make use of his physical side. More often than not Van Gaal makes the same mistake as Moyes and plays the Belgian International far too defensively. Smalling has been a revelation this year and Van Gaal must be credited with that. Blind is arguably one of his better signings with his versatility and work rate. Martial does seem to be the right kind of player for the way Van Gaal wants to play. Is he worth the money? Early indications suggest yes but only time will tell.
A lot of improvement is required to make Manchester United genuine contenders on all fronts again. The most immediate requirement is a softening of Van Gaal’s regimented tactics to allow more creative freedom and more shots on goal.
It says a lot that only De Gea (just), Jones, Valencia, Rooney, Smalling, Carrick, Young and Janusaj (kind of) remain from the squad that won the league two seasons ago.
I feel they need to keep De Gea, get some high quality cover for the injured Shaw and tweak the system to allow the attacking midfield players to be dynamic and threatening. Transfer wise the biggest addition they can find is an all rounder striker. Lewandowski would be perfect but unrealistic. It would not surprise me if the rumours of Charlie Austin came off, simply to take the strain of Martial.
They so don’t fix what isn’t broken; unfortunately Moyes and now Van Gaal have tried to do so. Now they must unfix things and get back to the “United way”.