I believe that’s the $250 million question. LVG has come in for some heavy criticism from fans, former players, and media hacks alike. For most, it’s all about the style of play and the lack of excitement. I read with interest what Bastian had to say recently; that Van Gaal wasn’t popular amongst the Bayern faithful, again due to a rather boring style of play on the pitch. But then he went on to win the Bundesliga and also reach the Champions League final; those 2 achievements won the fans over, but then he was fired the following season.
It’s a tough one. What Sir Alex left behind was a 27-year-old Rooney and a team that won the league with ease, but surely that was down to Sir Alex’s brilliant management rather than the brilliance of that particular squad. This is not a slur on Sir Alex – it’s just a fact that new players were needed, and that summer after he retired, Woodward and Moyes were a disaster, and the rest is history. LVG came in after the World Cup, has spent big since, and United are most definitely in a healthier position today than we were May 2014. We are sat 2 points off 1st place and top of the group in the Champions League, so whilst we can grumble about the style of football, this is also a results business, and at this time we can’t argue too much about the results.
Many younger supporters , say below the age of 35, are saying that we have to forget the Fergie era and move on, and it will never the same again. Maybe they are right, but United go back a lot further than just the Fergie era, and the style of football that has been engrained in our great club goes as far back as the late 1940s. There was the great ‘48 Cup Final vs Blackpool, which finished 4-2 and is recognized by a generation as maybe the best final ever – one in which the great Sir Stanley Matthews played.
Then came the Busby Babes of the 50s, who met with tragedy in Munich. They were such a well-loved team, not just because they were young, but because of the style and swagger they showed on the pitch, the likes of which had never been seen before.
By the 60s, Busby had United winning championships and, in 1968, the European Cup, playing exciting attacking football that wowed crowds all over the world. In the semi-final against Real in ‘68, we won the home leg 1-0 with a goal by George Best, then went to Madrid and were 3-1 down at half time, but never gave up and drew 3-3 to go to the final against Benfica. We won that game 4-1 after extra time, and that first 8 minutes of extra time, where we scored 3 magical goals, will forever live in the memories of those fortunate enough to be there.
After Busby came some difficult times, with the club getting through managers like hot dinners until the Doc came along and brought the swagger back to United. Whilst we didn’t win the league, we had some great entertainment under the Doc, and of course won the cup against Liverpool to stop them winning the treble.
Fergie’s time probably will never be repeated – not just the success and the style of play, but having the Class of ‘92 win so much in the style they did was just magical. Now seeing the likes of Lingard coming through and getting his chance is great for United fans, and I hope that many more home grown players are given the chance and make it, but to have the core of a team built from the academy once more seems unlikely.
We are still a couple of players short. It will be interesting to see if LVG can manage to sign his targets in January; should he succeed, then anything could happen the second half of the season, including winning major trophies with style. If the style of football continues without any change, LVG could still, in my opinion, deliver a trophy or two during his stay at United, but I don’t think he will be remembered as a great United manager unless he wins playing exciting, attractive football.
Would we rather win ugly than lose playing attractive football? You bet we would, but come the next man in charge, I believe all United fans will be hungry for the return of our traditional swagger and style.
As a mad United fan, of course I wish LVG the best and hope he can bring home the trophies, and I’m actually beginning to believe he might just do it – a Premier League or a Champions League (or both!) by May 2017.