I have to confess I am a Manchester United supporter – much to my Dad’s disappointment, who thought my Everton lampshade and duvet covers as a boy might swing it. But for some strange reason I felt drawn to United whilst watching them lose the FA Cup Final in 1976 to Southampton. It may sound odd to support a losing team but it was their attacking football that did it. Whilst the next decade was a struggle with the likes of Liverpool, Nottingham Forest, Everton and Villa dominating the League, they never lost that attacking instinct (apart from a short period under Dave Sexton).
Then came the glory years under Ferguson – again based on attacking flowing football – and I think many people started to believe success was almost a right. But history tells us that everything comes to an end and under David Moyes last season the speed of decline surprised many – including me. So on to a new manager and the club have opted for proven experience in the form of Louis Van Gaal.
Now LVG is no shrinking violet and he’s perhaps the man who gave Mourinho the idea that self adulation was a route to success. Unfortunately, for me, that’s where the comparisons with Mourinho stop. In in my opinion, Mourinho is the best manager in football today by a country mile – he doesn’t concern himself with individuals who are all ego and no work ethic (he flogs them to Utd & EFC) and he builds teams that play in the way that best suits the country he’s working in. I fear that Louis Van Gaal is more of van salesman – quite adept at selling you an absolutely “blinding motor” only for you to discover when you get it home that it’s an old banger.
True, Van Gaal has had some success – but he’s also had failures. But it’s not the results that worry me. The problem in my book is his fit with United. His football philosophy simply does not match United’s culture of playing attacking free-flowing football. I watched Holland play in the World Cup and they were using a 3-5-2 system that made them the most boring team I have ever seen: They beat Spain 5-1 but Spain were well on top in the 1st half and but for a wonder goal by RVP would have gone on to win, but instead they collapsed. They struggled to beat Australia 3-2 and beat a Chile side that had already qualified by scoring twice in the last 15 minutes. They then went into the knockout stages and a Robben dive, cheated Mexico out of a deserved win – before they drew 0-0 with the mighty Costa Rica (winning on penalties) – then another 0-0 with Argentina before going out.
By the end I was struggling to watch, it was so boring I felt my love for the game was being slowly sucked away. How could a team play such negative football on the world stage. That’s where king Louis comes in and his mighty 3-5-2. Unfortunately, from what I hear he is wedded to such a formation and will force United to adopt the approach. I wonder whether he’s ever seen the Premier League. Does he appreciate that other teams aren’t afraid to attack and will exploit a weak defence – and if necessary by-pass a cluttered midfield – it might not be pretty but British football has never been afraid of a lump it forward approach. More importantly has he never seen United and why they’ve been successful in recent times. The importance of full backs to a United system – playing with width – speed on the break – incisive passing. Does he appreciate the players at his disposal and what they can do.
The question is what will change first. If Van Gaal persists in a 3-5-2 then I wouldn’t be surprised to see United in the bottom half of the league – dare I say it they might even be in a relegation scrap. Believe me it will get that bad if he persists for too long. Will the United board allow him that luxury or will they insist on a change of style or even another change of manager. Who knows, but as I write this before the dawn of the new season I predict that signs of a struggle might already be there by the game with Burnley and with QPR, Leicester and West Ham to follow before the big boys hit town, United could be in real trouble by December
Moyes failed at United because he forgot about United’s culture and the desire to win outweighing the fear of losing. Van Salesman must heed the warning or he’ll go the same way.