Is This The Eulogy Of LVG?

 From a culture war to transfer backlog, it’s becoming apparent that Louis Van Gaal has got his work cut out at Manchester United…. Deskundige Fauteuil provides an outside view of events in Manchester…from the comfort of his desk, very far away.

By Sir Natty…follow him on Twitter @Marc_Desailly 

The British press has this very annoying tendency to refer by acronyms certain football personalities. When its individual players or strike partnerships it seems to work fine, RVP … SAS… and so on. Disturbingly, when it’s applied to hired hands (or managers as they are sometimes known) it tends to involve ridicule (AVB/RDM).  In the week that just passed, Manchester United Football Club (of the Cayman Islands) placed a blanket ban on fans bringing larger electronic devices such as iPads to their Old Trafford football stadium. The motive is being debated in social media circles but mostly amongst the few match-going supporters. The football on show in their opening game might drive fans away from their home games entirely.

 For fans of rival clubs, its like the joke that never ends. Just like Chelsea in the six years after Mourinho left with managers going through the door at a canter, or Arsenal fans, who despite winning the FA Cup and Charity Shield in the space of 3 months, still feel the stigma of going nine years without honours.

 Football fans are very fickle and are very susceptible to their perceived reputations. Most fans would like to support fashionable clubs and might go to massive lengths to make club related news seem more than face value. A little example; when United appointed David Moyes but Chelsea had employed the fancy portuguese Jose Mourinho, many a United fan (I didn’t make this up) especially the english speaking West Africans proceeded to anoint him THE CHOSEN ONE DAVID MOYES. Nothing amiss you think? Except they pronounced the glaswegians name as Dah-vid (Think David Luiz/Villa) Moh-yez (syllabic with Perez)! 

This might have been the thought process of the United board when considering the approaching and signing of Louis Van Gaal as the first non-british manager in their club’s history. Someone exotic, romantic (depending on your taste) who could make the fans dream again, of domestic dominance and returning to their syn-ronaldo period of European excellence.  Reputation is everything in football. Once established, it is very difficult to shake off. There are too many examples: diver, cheat, darling….  Then once in a while you have football personalities that have multiple often-contrasting reputations. People like Louis Van Gaal.

 Van Gaal offers one of the most perplexing examples of how football can exalt and damn in equal measure, frequently on the same page. He doesn’t seem to have that natural inhibition that most coaches have for taking difficult jobs having overseen some of the biggest clubs in world football and seen considerable success at each of them. He successfully replaced his eternal nemesis Johan Cruyff at FCBarcelona (domestically at least) after besting Cruyff’s managerial achievements first at Ajax in his most successful managerial spell to date. 

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Photograph courtesy of http://www.dw.de 

Inspite of this, he still managed to drive himself away with alienating behavior that affected his players so much, the board had to act. He repeated this at Bayern Munich 10 years later. Let’s just say the man is not afraid of dropping his pants to prove a point.  All in all, the man seems to man seems to enjoy a challenge as evidenced by agreeing to manage Manchester United while coach of Holland, before a world cup! Some might call that madness but its second nature to Van Gaal. He took the job in the full knowledge that it would leave him with no rest period for the entire summer. A man of many contradictions; not unlike most of us anyway…. 

The Preseason campaign in the commercial markets of the USA (which, true to form, Van Gaal complained about) was hailed as a success and some bookies were even offering odds on Manchester United being champions in his first season. Seasoned (not a pun) experts were not as easily carried away and the result against Swansea has installed a crisis so early in the season. Mental strength is one aspect that Van Gaal has repeatedly spoken about in pre-game conferences and so far, he has been proven right. It’s one thing playing to potential or even over-performing in friendlies and quite another to play with the same freedom when the Bunsen is right underneath you.

_72881840_mata_gettyPhotograph courtesy of BBC 

United’s problems in the transfer market began a very long time ago, long before Woodward and Moyes. Some go as far back as Veron and the sale of Beckham. I personally prefer to look just at the signings they made after selling Ronaldo and letting Carlos Tevez depart in the summer of 2009. The players they have brought in since:

 2009 
Ins:
Zoran Tosic (Partizan Belgrade), £6m
Richie de Laet (Stoke City), undisclosed
Antonio Valencia (Wigan Athletic), £16m
Michael Owen (Newcastle United), free
Gabriel Obertan (Bordeaux), £3m
Mame Biram Diouf (Molde FK), £3.5m

Total Spend: £28.5m
Net Spend: -£56.5m

2010
 Ins:
Marnick Vermijl (Standard Liege), undisclosed
Chris Smalling (Fulham), £10m
Javier Hernandez (CD Guadalajara), £7m
Bebe (Vitoria de Guimaraes), £7.4m

Total Spend: £24.4m
Net Spend: £9.4m

2011
 
Ins:
Anders Lindegaard (Aalesunds FK), £3m
Phil Jones (Blackburn Rovers), £16.5m
Ashley Young (Aston Villa), £16m
David de Gea (Atletico Madrid), £18m

Total Spend: £53.5m

 

Net Spend: £41.3m

2012

 Ins:
Frederic Veseli (Manchester City), undisclosed
Shinji Kagawa (Borussia Dortmund), £12m
Nick Powell (Crewe Alexandra), £4m Robin Van Persie £24m

2013 Ins: Marouane Fellaini (Everton), £28m

2014 Ins: Juan Mata (Chelsea), £37m*

In these five years (including this one) only two players signed by the club have made a considerable impact on the first team: De Gea and Van Persie.  Van Persie is the key man for the team without a doubt.  This for me is the issue Van Gaal must deal with. The club is ridden with players who offer nothing to the first team and clearing the deadwood must be the first step. Unfortunately for Van Gaal, the extensive preseason offered him no chance to do this. He must instead look to the transfer market and it is here that United’s transfer policy fails them. They cannot sell for value and cannot buy for value either. Chelsea experienced this painfully in 2011 and have been rather more prudent in their transfer dealings since.

One would have thought that the club would have acknowledged that the absence of european football would have turned off the best players from coming to United. So far it has proved true with only the really young and emerging talents joining for big cash. More ambitious players in their primes seem to be avoiding the Old Trafford outfit altogether. With one exception…

images-3 Photograph courtesy of The Telegraph 

All summer long Juventus have said they will stick to their man. They are fooling no one. Antonio Conte left the club not long after talks held with the hierarchy on potential transfer dealings and rumored sales of one of the clubs prime targets to balance the books. The players in question are two of Juventus’ most outstanding central midfielders and It is clear that one of them was on offer to the highest bidder. Older and more experienced, it was only natural that the interest in Arturo Vidal would prompt intense speculation. At one point personal terms were said to have been agreed and at age 27, Juventus could not ask for more than the rumored £47m. What is holding the deal back? Some in the know are tempted to point fingers at Louis Van Gaal but I would encourage them to tread lightly as Van Gaal has good reason to be cautious.

Vidal has the potential to be the catalyst signing at Manchester United, that player that turns everything around and motivates his teammates and so on. So is the gospel these days. What many of them do not know is that in the last four years Vidal has played the best football of his career and struggled to get recognition as the undisputed and the best all-round central midfielder in the world. Then they are his injuries. If the player were two years younger and without what is slowly becoming a chronic knee complaint, it would be a no-brainer. Van Gaal is well entitled to tread cautiously and save some funds (respect) for when the market is more conducive for a blockbuster signing or when the right player comes along. If they are stuck for options they might chance it on deadline day but he really must consider all his options. Then theres the Di Maria deal which also looks probable though it’s more to do with United just looking for quality they can poach elsewhere as they did with Juan Mata (a poor signing in hindsight?). Mata is struggling to justify his position and is another name struggling with a reputation complex.

In his position, I wouldn’t go for just one signing to come and clean the Aegean stables, I’d go for 3 or 4 mammoth signings for effect. It’s the only way to get out of this really poor mess without building drip by drip like Liverpool and Arsenal did to much derision over a long period of time. Signing a player like Vidal would just appease the fans but without the effect on the team, would be pretty pointless in the long run. Pogba is a player that I feel would make not just a difference but a huge statement when his age and determination are put into consideration. Again a tree does not make a forest, United needed more than Shaw and Herrera in this transfer window as neither of them are ready to lead and have left themselves vulnerable to exploitation by rival clubs if they attempt to snare any of their want away stars.

There are already some negative headlines seeping out of Old Trafford about overtraining and exertion on some of the club’s talents (Most recently the aforementioned Luke Shaw). Then there’s the talk of inflexibility and betrayal of the club’s identity. I only see this ending two ways.

One: the fans shut up and let the manager the board employed perform a very difficult task without the added internal pressure. This would mean the board handing over all authority to Van Gaal the man and not distrusting partially. Obviously this has its pitfalls but nobody needs to let him know that HE is a temporary fix. Not yet. He achieves minor miracles and United are restored to past glories. He may last two years but not more than three. May or may not wait to be sacked.

Two: the endless bickering continues and speculation continues and United board feel the time is right to let Ryan Giggs take over again. The insistence of the Utd board that he must work with Van Gaal tells its own story. They don’t fully trust the man. And with good reason – but then why employ him in the first place?

United’s issues will not stop or end with Van Gaal’s appointment but fortune will play a role in how his tenure is scripted in the clubs history. I doubt the players will wholeheartedly buy into his new programme (think Andre Villas-Boas) as the nuevo United will exclude many of them. The form and fitness of RVP cannot be overemphasized: he is the main man at Man Utd.

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 Photograph courtesy of metro

All these must fall in place or the iron curtain of top-club management will fall heavily on the enigmatic and storied career of one of European footballs most famous names. Will he be known as King Louis or will he be forever known in England as LVG**

 

*Club record fee

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Guest Feature – Ligue Un opens with a characteristic draw

Zlatan+Ibrahimovic+Stade+de+Reims+Champagne+n13JPoNqykol

Photograph courtesy of Zimbio

Sir Natty reporting from the Stade Auguste Delaune…find him on twitter at @Marc_Desailly

It’s Friday night in France, the opening weekend of the new Ligue Un season. On one side, Stade de Reims, a reconstructed 2014 version of the famous old club which competed for honours in the heady old days of the European Cup with stars such as Just Fontaine and Raymond Kopa. While the history remains, the stars are long gone – today they congregate in the city of lights. As the only professional football side in France’s biggest city, PSG’s history, including the oil-rich years, has been rather unremarkable. For in a summer in which they exhausted their entire limit set out by UEFA on one player, Paris St. Germain actually looked like a side short of quality in the most relevant areas whilst at the same time showing the obvious gulf (no pun intended) in ability between they and the other sides in the Ligue.

I decided to watch the game on TV rather than rely on a stream from one of the numerous betting websites that host such games. The regional broadcaster only showed the game on one channel (TV5 Le Monde) and due to my limited (or non-existent…) knowledge of the language, I had to settle for the commentary in the most colloquial of French.

Strangely, it made me enjoy the game more, free of the usual commentator-curses and bias that wreck many an English language game. I could still pick out one or two comments about certain players (ADM for a start) but that was rather outside the immediate context of the game.

It has always been an issue when clubs kick-off their league campaigns at the tail end of the summer transfer window. Players are still getting the beach out of their heads, thus cohesion and focus are at a low ebb. Some players are playing for moves away and others still for a spot in the team hence the lack of uniform motivation.

The game begins with one of the most underwhelming kickoffs in recent memory. Or maybe that was due to some unfair expectation on my part. After all, what did I really think? That a manic PSG would set about Reims in a manner reminiscent of 2013/2014’s Bayern?  It didn’t quite start like that but there was some early goalmouth action.  Cavani was put clean through on goal but proceeded to finish like his namesake, Edinson Cavani. While a player of undoubted quality, his erratic finishing often leaves a lot to be desired.  The man just struggles in any squad where he isn’t the main man (BigTimeCharlie Syndrome?).

Just a few minutes later, the Main Man himself was presented with a similar chance and he finished with such grace that you really began to wonder if PSG were going to walk away with. Cavani had time to prefix the most curious and puzzling 15 minutes of football ever seen with another display of finishing hardly in keeping with his bloated reputation (I exaggerate but still…).

First off, Lucas Moura, another South American seemingly lost in Paris, cuts out a wayward backpass and beats the lumbering defender who in his own interests (and probably of his team as well), backs out of a challenge, leaving Moura racing through on goal. To his left is the team’s spiritual leader who he may square the ball to for yet another plaudit-taking brace after only 15 minutes of the new season. Moura probably then has an epiphany; why pass to Him when I can show my worth and commitment to the team by scoring on the opening day? While processing these thoughts, the goalkeeper swarms him and wins the ball cleanly. In a world without rules, a furious Zlatan probably kung-fu kicks Lucas in the head for his indiscretion. However, even Zlatan respects the law and instead spends the next 30 seconds gesturing at Lucas who sheepishly seeks out the safety of the right wing, far away from Zlatan. Still livid and certainly short of concentration, Ibrahimovic gets back onside as soon as PSG win the ball with Verrati. The Italian then runs between the defensive line and Ibra doubles back and follows his run quickly. Perhaps after monitoring furious exchange in the previous passage of play, Veratti smartly rolls the ball to Zlatan in a move more in place in football simulation video games. Zlatan strikes at the empty net and as I jump in exclamation, the ball strikes the upright! The mischievous camera director zooms to Zlatan’s facial expression, before panning to a nervous looking Moura – Zlatan’s miss is probably his fault, and so on…

At this point, Reims is in sixes and sevens and PSG rampant. Another through ball sends Zlatan down the left channel of the box. He crumples under no contact…PENALTY! How Stephanne Lannoy saw that as anything but is anyone’s guess but it makes one wonder how much influence Zlatan has in french football (personality-wise). In life, there are three certainties – death, taxes and Zlatan-scores-a-penalty. Mentally, it’s 2-0 and PSG are in the middle of yet another Ligue Un stroll. The Main Man, never a purveyor of self-doubt, places the ball, steps back in trademark regal fashion and takes aim. It’s surely destined for the bottom left hand side… of the goalkeeper’s glove! I half expected the camera to zoom to Moura again – it’s his fault and Zlatan can do no wrong. I personally haven’t seen him take a worse penalty, although all credit to the goalkeeper for guessing the right way.

A few minutes later with the pair of commentators still jabbering away at the incredulity of what they had just witnessed, Reims wins a freekick. Zlatan is marking the near post but with as much authority as the Queen of England has over her subjects in Scotland) – he’s there but not really. A whipped ball flies in beyond him, Marquinhos and Pastore…BANG! Prince Oniangue is away in jubilant celebration and the crowd goes wild. It’s off his shin, it’s not offside and Sirigu doesn’t look like he even feels like blaming anyone.

Play resumes and PSG is in possession. Pastore…Verrati…Cavani…Ibra…back to Thiago Silva, onto Moura, Van der wiel joins in… goalkick. They try again on the other side but Digne seems to be having some difficulty either with finding the final ball or getting past his man. A very disjointed performance all-round from the reigning champions and as a neutral I look forward to something to give the game a kick.

The football gods answer my prayers and Reims score again with a neat combination between Antoine Devaux and a chap called Charbonnier (whom by the way the commentary team kept going on and on and ON about like he was the next best thing in France, baguette notwithstanding: All I saw was a right footed version of Olivier Giroud in terms of style but I leave it to you to decide whether that’s a good thing or not). With halftime looming, and the game’s entertainment value already in steep decline, I begin composing this.

It’s hard to tell what type of season PSG will have based on their performance in the game but the most pertinent issue must be their overreliance on Ibra. While it’s not quite as bad as wee Lionel piggybacking Barcelona from two seasons ago (the irony is surely not lost on Zlatan), it is concerning enough to warrant marquee signings in the mould of Neymar and Suarez to share the load a bit. However, PSG, due to FFP, cannot go down that route but still have ambitions of reaching the higher echelons of European football.

In midweek, a former coach of Zlatan’s (I couldn’t verify who; some articles quoted it as a former Juve coach and others as a swedish coach…so probably his agent) said that Zlatan was fed up in Paris and yearned for a return to the Old Lady. While it might be true that French football might be proving too easy and repetitive for Zlatan (who by the way scored a brace last weekend vs Guingamp in the Far east super cup), a mercenary of some repute, it might also be a ploy to boost wages. Hardly unreasonable, seeing as his performances are more or less paying everyone else’s wages! Despite the rumours, it’s hard to see the Swede shunning new money for the Old Lady whose highest paid player, Buffon, earns in a year what Zlatan takes home in 4 months.  His agent could do better.

Despite watching Marquinhos yesterday, it still defies logic that they spent FIFTY MILLION SOLID POUNDS (if they paid in full, Chelsea must be laughing) on a defender to partner Thiago Silva. Not that Marquinhos was poor (he wasn’t very good though) – he’s obviously a very talented defender – but that the combination of the Mineirao debacle and more pressing concerns elsewhere have left them scrabbling in the transfer window.

That money now looks like it could have been better spent on a player like Angel Di Maria who would certainly fit excellently in a PSG system that is begging for a free-playing attacking midfielder. The absence of Blaise Matuidi was also surprising, especially in light of France’s quarter final exit at the world cup. Aurier should replace Van der Wiel as a (sigh) replacement for club icon Jallet who has departed for Lyon in search of greener pastures; all that oil must rile him. If PSG cannot sign that number 10 they so desire, an alternative may be pushing Verrati further upfield where his ill-discipline is not shown up quite as much. He is also an excellent dribbler of the ball and this move might free up more playing time for Chantome or Cabaye who are sadly beginning to look like Home-grown rule squad elements.

PSG starts the second half with a high line pressing for an equaliser but that seemed to offer Reims more space to attack and they were lucky not to concede a 3rd. Zlatan came to the rescue, scoring a rather fortuitous goal as the game petered into torpor. The commentary drizzled in and out in the second half with both commentators probably digesting what they had seen and not seen and what they expected in the season. Special mention must go to Diego Rigonato who I saw a lot of, but not enough to ascertain how influential he will be in the coming season.

I wonder whether PSG can still squeeze out a little more money by selling someone (eg Cavani /Lavezzi/ Moura/Pastore) and get Di Maria as it is difficult to see them setting anywhere alight this season if such dour and ineffective performance are to be the norm. Then again, it’s the start of the season so maybe I’m a bit harsh. I fully expect them to walk Ligue Un but Qatar will be expecting more than a dash of flair this time.

Zlatan of the Match: Ibrahimovic (sigh)

Not-Zlatan Man of the Match: Prince Oniangue