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.
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.
Photograph 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:
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
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
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
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…
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.
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