What next for Manchester United?
As the dust settles after the Champions League exit, the stark reality of the season being over has set in. Even with five league games remaining, it has not stopped speculation and conjecture about potential summer recruits, outgoings and of course, a potential managerial change.
There is no denying the mammoth task that David Moyes took charge of but calling this season underwhelming would be an understatement – we have been nothing short of shocking.
One of the most obvious negatives has been the drop in standards and the consistent poor performances. Weaknesses, which should have been plugged, have again been exposed and the team looks to have regressed rather than progressed. This was never going to be a job that would be sorted in one or two transfer windows either.
Realistically, signing the right players for the right reasons comes at a price and the club dallied and jostled too much last summer, which has contributed to this season. Now talks of a war chest of up to £200m seems far-fetched but such is the realism of the situation that even spending £200m might not solve all of the problems the club has accumulated over the past four seasons.
The trophies Sir Alex Ferguson won only papered over cracks and the fact we kept winning was a testament to his ability, but also reason for him to not spend large quantities on players to keep the club going forward. Sir Alex and David Gill both talked of leaving a competitive squad and that the transition would be seamless. Whatever they envisaged has not happened and the club looks on the verge of falling back into an abyss if something is not done to stop the bleeding. That ‘something’ has to be a change of manager.
David Moyes is a good manager, but he is not a great manager. This is not 1986 either where the club has danced with mediocrity and needs rebuilding from the bottom-up. This is a club that is at the top of its game; top facilities, top infustructure and top potential. The club needed a proven winner to take over stewardship and steer the titanic of Manchester United into another period of success.
Instead, a novice captain was appointed who had been rowing with a broken ore, but still kept up with the bigger ships. Moyes has his qualities but that does not mean he is good enough for such a club like Manchester United. That is why a change is needed and that is why the club should actively pursue Louis Van Gaal.
Louis van Gaal has proven himself at the highest level numerous times and the job at United has similarities with the Bayern Munich side he took over. He rebuilt the team and even led it to a Champions League Final. He laid the foundations for later success for Jupp Heynckes and Pep Guardiola. He was allowed to put forward his ideas and impose a style of play fitting to the philosophies of such a big institution. Expectations did not faze him. Arrogance is a good trait when used correctly and Van Gaal has bucket loads – he knows he’s good and he will tell you he is good.
Another aspect which Van Gaal is famed for is his dedication to youth. With a fantastic academy and prospects at the club, he would actively follow the clubs traditions of looking at youth and putting faith in young players rather than always reaching for the cheque-book. This would also appeal to the Glazers but would not mean he would not demand backing if he wanted a specific player.
Tactically, Van Gaal is strong. He is extremely flexible and finds a system to suit the players at his disposal rather than a prerequisite to fit the players to his own system. He has played a variation of formations in his career – Ajax played 3-4-3, Barcelona played 4-3-3, AZ Alkmaar played 4-4-2 as did Bayern Munich.
One of his best traits is identifying weaknesses and doing the best to plug them whilst using the strengths to his advantage. An example of this was using Ivica Olic’s work-rate upfront to press from the front at Bayern which aided the way the team won the ball back again. Subtle manoeuvres such as these show how much of an intricate thinker Van Gaal is.
Team ethic is also another fundamental part of the way Van Gaal approaches his job. Van Gaal does this using psychology and the links to strong team cohesion to get his ideas across. He once said: “Football is a team sport, and therefore members of the team are dependent on each other. If certain players do not carry out their tasks properly, then their colleagues will suffer.”
This simple idea may seem obvious but in the modern day, it can be very difficult to impose.
Van Gaal also believes in the idea of constant, reciprocal communication between players and the coaching staff. Team meetings are often a forum for players and coaches to share ideas together and offer a collective solution but Van Gaal also knows he is the leader and he will take the final decisions.
The last part is the aspect of team building. A Dutch newspaper once published a photo of the Ajax players, holding hands in a circle whilst playing a game of headers. This was mocked but Van Gaal argued that this was just a small cog in the big wheel. “Everything depends on the team aspect, it is therefore important that each player knows what the others can and cannot do,” he said.
These basic but fundamental aspects of team cohesion within football help Van Gaal enforce his playing and coaching style with the correct intensity and conviction, to get the best out the individuals and the team as a whole.
With these in mind, you can see the vast difference between qualities of Moyes and Van Gaal and the Glazers would have done their research into Van Gaal. They’ll know what they’d get and they know they need an instant reaction to this poor season, not steady progress back towards the top.
A club like Manchester United simply cannot be champions one season and finish 7th the next. The job for Moyes was to continue the clubs success, something he has failed to do. Van Gaal would give an immediate response to the situation and be the perfect choice to rebuild Manchester United and take the club where it should be.