Home » Red Thoughts: Louis Van Gaal – The good, the bad and the ugly

Red Thoughts: Louis Van Gaal – The good, the bad and the ugly

by Red Debate

Following the announcement, and then un-announcement, of Louis van Gaal’s retirement from football management this week, the Red Thoughts team reflect on his time at United and ponder what was good, bad and downright ugly about his tenure.


REX: I wish we could take his ‘philosophy’ and mould it together with Mourinho’s system and we’d have the perfect balance between attack and possession. Because for me, his philosophy is one you use at the end of games where we’re 1-0 up in the 80th minute and feel we can’t score more, or we’ve gone on a canter and are just killing the game, so you pass it to death. Sadly, he used it all game long and with all the possession we were toothless and didn’t create or score much. It did however make us look really good defensively – although De Gea went to a whole other level so again…to be used at the end of games…

Other than that, he was a character all on his own, hilarious pressers and stories … wouldn’t mind him for a dad/grandad. Good luck to him wherever he goes.


JIM: Good: Brilliant defensively. We conceded the third lowest amount of goals all season and were pretty solid at the back, which made our situation last season far less bad than it could’ve been. Oh, and he played the youth.

Bad: Pretty much everything else. We were clueless and toothless in attack, his man management skills were often poor, our recruitment was complete dogshit, as were our player sales, and he was too stubborn to admit when he was wrong.

Ugly: That boring style of play which could send even an insomniac to sleep very easily and the war of words he had with some managers about being a long ball manager.


COREY: To be honest, I think LVG would have brought us success … but in the long run. The problem is everyone wanted success in the short term. Although results have picked up under Mourinho, there are still a lot of questions about how long will he be at united. Under LVG we saw the rise of several youth players and impressive performances from Borthwick-Jackson, Joe Riley, Varela, Rashford, Fosu-Mensah and co. Imagine if Mourinho had taken over immediately after Fergie or Moyes. None of those lads would have had the chance to impress.

I think what ultimately hurt LVG was he tinkered with his system too much. He started with the 3-5-2, but gave up on it. We then saw the 4-4-2 diamond, the 4-3-3, and eventually the 4-2-3-1. How were players ever going to settle into his system? Look at Mourinho, we didn’t get the results we wanted at first. There was no fluidity, and no creativity. But the players were still learning his system, (And as Mourinho likes to point out, forget the old system). Now we are seeing the fruits of that persistence. I think if LVG had just stuck with the 3-5-2 throughout his reign we may have seen different results. I am not saying he would necessarily have been a success. But we would maybe have seen better performances from the players. They would have had more time to learn one system, and become familiar with it.


DAN: I think the bad and ugly roll into one in his time as United manager. He simply did not take enough risks in games. He was possession for possession’s sake, which was summed up by our missing out on champions league football on goal difference. The pace of the football with some of the players was shockingly slow. But his good parts were that he wasn’t afraid to give the youngsters a chance – fair enough, most of those youngsters have moved on, but they had a chance. He also brought in some great players who are moulding into our squad – Blind, Herrera, Rojo and Martial – yes, not all of his signings worked out, but I don’t think there is a manager out there with a 100% record of great transfers. He had a great record against the “big” clubs and even managed an FA Cup win for the first time in 12 years. It’s just unfortunate that his press conferences were more interesting than some of the football.

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RICK: I disagree with you Corey, as I don’t feel we were ever going to get better under LVG. In fact, in his second season we were going backwards. Plus none of the top players ever wanted to play for him. Just the youngsters. His football was meant, like Rex said, for when you are 1-0 or 2-0 up and you want to kill a game. Not when you’re 0-0 and need to score or if you’re chasing a game. That’s why we had a record of the highest number of draws and specifically 1-1 draws ever at United. It’s also why we recorded our lowest ever goals total at home since we’ve been in the Premier League. His football was the most dire crap I’ve ever watched in my life. I’m sorry but I started hating football under LVG, because it was so boring and painful to watch United play; to me, they weren’t playing football. It was sideways and backwards passing after sideways and backward pass. If he wanted to bore the opposition and his own fans to death then he definitely achieved that.

I agree with Danny about the good things, such as the transfers and youth promotion. However, his man management skills were the worst I’ve ever seen from a manager, although Pep might be on his way to matching him on that front. LVG did bring in the right players, he just clearly didn’t know how to use them.

For me we started going backwards in LVG’s second year at United. He made the same mistakes against lesser teams we should be beating; we had a good record against the top teams but it was the losses and draws against the teams we should beat that cost us a top four place and challenging for the title. As already mentioned, some of LVG’s principles were good, but he himself wasn’t the man to implement the good principles he brought with him.

Lastly I will say that he was very disrespectful to fans at times, like we don’t know what good football is and like we haven’t seen teams when they are playing badly and when they are playing well. Oh yeah, I almost forgot, he didn’t show us any passion or inclination that he cared during a match. Just sat there with his damn clipboard scratching his head, clueless, a bit like Pep now. His subs never ever made an influence as they were never motivated to do anything, because he killed any sort of motivation they ever had. He also made terrible subs at times which made the team worse.

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COREY: I stand by what I said. I think we never saw the best of LVG. He gave up on himself long before the fans gave up on him. He kept tinkering with the system, and as such unsettled the players. Look at the pre-season game against Madrid, where we absolutely thrashed them in the USA. Now i know what you are going to say – pre-season doesn’t mean anything. But just watch the game again. Watch what LVG’s system could have looked like if players were allowed time to learn it, and players played with confidence and fluidity. I think with time and understanding, we could have consistently replicated that Madrid game in the premier league.


DAN: Van Gaal always said from day one that his United career was a three year project, to create a team with Giggs to leave to Giggs. I think part of his problem was he forgot about the players in the here and now, while the young players learnt their way, which I believe cost him. Look at Mourinho, he brought Ibrahimovic, a player he knows will get goals and the missing piece of the jigsaw in midfield in Pogba, but LVG created the basis of what we have. The only reason LVG isn’t in charge is because we finished 5th; I think it’s simple – Champions League is the be all and end all of what keeps our managers in a job.


RICK: Corey, I think you may have a point in the faith in his own system thing. He did give up on it a bit easily. I mean look at Conte at Chelsea. They have 3 at the back and it works, so no reason as to why it couldn’t have been done if he’d have deployed it properly. Which brings me back to my point of not using players properly and in their correct positions. Having Young and Valencia as wing backs would definitely have worked, as they have the energy levels and attitude to work both ends of the pitch. In terms of tinkering yes he did, but he also played lots of players out of position.


BETS: I still don’t know what went wrong between his first and second seasons. We will always remember him for that boring football in the second season, but by the end of his first season I thought he was building a good style. I remember us thrashing Spurs toward the end of the first season, with some amazing football. Weren’t we all super confident that we’d go from strength to strength and win the league in his second season? And if you look at the players he bought during his reign, despite the fact that some of them didn’t work out – it didn’t smack of defensive-mindedness – Falcao, Di Maria, Memphis, Martial …

Also looking at the stats, you can see a big difference between season 1 and season 2 in terms of chances created: 2012/13 (Fergie) – 438 chances created; 2013/14 (Moyes/Giggs) – 389 chances; 2014/15 (LVG) – 391 chances; 2015/16 (LVG) – 312 chances. We even started 2015/16 positively, we were top of the league, then something seemed to happen around October time that changed everything. Perhaps he lost the dressing room for some reason – we’ll maybe never know what it was – but you can almost put a date on it. The crab-like football then just got worse and worse, it was almost like he just stood in that hole and kept on digging.

So for me, the good includes the first season, and as you’ve all mentioned, the commitment to youth the signings, and the entertaining press conferences. In terms of the bad, in addition to what has already been said, he would unnecessarily set something in stone, and stubbornly stick to it – “my captain always plays no matter what” was the craziest thing to do and I don’t think it did Rooney any good either. Also “one of the centre backs must be left footed and one right” – what nonsense.

As for the ugly, the way he chained players to certain parts of the pitch (for me, it’s what destroyed Schneiderlin’s confidence as a box-to-box player), his ruthless cutting of a player after a single error (I think both Memphis and Darmian’s confidence was destroyed by that, among others) and the long balls up to Fellaini represented horrible, ugly football … although Mourinho can be guilty of similar tactics as well unfortunately.

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CARL: Rick, I agree, we were certainly going backwards and the players hated playing under him, that was evident to see. I guess we can thank God that it was last season, when the big sides never showed up, when LVG was in charge, and not this one, because I dread to think how far off the pace we would be given the inconsistencies of how LVG would accumulate points. By the way Jim, we still have the 3rd best defence in the league, playing more attacking football and De Gea is being called upon less, so even defensively I question whether to give him all that much credit. Go on then, seeing as I’m in a positive mood, I’ll give him a teeny weenie bit of credit for defensive effectivity I guess.

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