At the beginning of the season Louis Van Gaal took his seat in the Europa Suite at Old Trafford and addressed the assembled media with the confidence of a man who’d managed three of the biggest clubs in world football and recently finished third in the planet’s biggest international tournament.
Van Gaal spoke about his ‘philosophy’ before it became meaningless twaddle, he acknowledged the need to keep the commercial side of the club ticking over without sounding like a Glazer lackey and he also dropped the bombshell that Michael Carrick was seriously injured without causing complete depression throughout the fan base. No mean feat considering the eight months of ineptitude and false dawns we’d endured under the hapless David Moyes who began his tenure at United by acting like a rabbit in headlights and mentioning Bill Shankly. We really should’ve known…
The reason Van Gaal instilled such belief in his words wasn’t just due to the air of nonchalant charisma he carried but also his CV which read like an epic coke-fuelled game of Championship Manager. A Champions League with Ajax, only failing to retain it on penalties, then titles with Barcelona, Bayern Munich and the unfancied AZ before rectifying the only blot on his managerial career- an successful spell with the national side- by taking them to brink of the World Cup final.
Moyes had sat in front of the press with only Sir Alex’s endorsement and ten uneventful years at Everton to convince he was equipped to handle the biggest job in football. Van Gaal had more trophies and big tournament experience than Manchester City had in their entire history. It was night and day comparing the two and only served to highlight how United finally had the right man.
The gloss of pre-season infallibility and assured press conferences quickly evaporated with an opening day Premier League defeat to Swansea City followed by more uninspiring results against footballing titans such as Sunderland and Burnley not to mention a drubbing at the hands of the mighty MK Dons. Thankfully nothing makes us forget our troubles like a bit of retail therapy and United embarked on a Summer transfer spending spree that made the Kardashians look like homeless crack addicts who’d just had their benefits stopped. We had shiny new toys so there was no need to spit our dummies out just yet.
If we’re to be brutally honest much of United’s season has been mechanical rather than inspirational, with results ground out through individual moments rather than cohesive movements. Even United’s long unbeaten runs have been tainted by draws against dross that have contained less highlights than the final game on Match of the Day- ironically more often than not where we belonged.
Van Gaal’s persistence with 3-5-2 has been more baffling than Mickey Phelan and Steve Bruce masterminding a draw at the Eithad, while Wayne Rooney’s occupation in a midfield role makes about as much sense as Paul Merson. And don’t even get me started on the severe lack of Ander Herrera in my life. There’s plenty of reasons to be baffled by Van Gaal, we’ve every right to question or doubt him when results don’t go our way, but with the team in fourth and on course for the latter stages of the FA Cup we can hardly say he isn’t achieving his goals.
The manner of our wins and draws rather than the number of them is what’s frustrated most of us and the recent angst-fest at Upton Park did nothing to dissuade Van Gaal’s detractors he’s not been good enough, but let’s not forget the reasons we felt so confident when he arrived at Old Trafford.
Yes, it’s been inconsistent at best, at times confusing and others simply baffling, but we wanted an uber successful, confident and even arrogant manager and we got one.
Van Gaal’s record speaks for itself, even if at the minute the problem is so does the football. The murmurings of doubt are beginning to creep in and while it’s understandable, it’s not wholly justified when United are still on course for exactly what the manager was asked to deliver.