OPINION: United need to regain the appetite for risk that Sir Alex instilled
Sir Alex will always be remembered for embodying the Manchester United spirit. His decision to step down when he did broke many a heart. Today, we start to see why.
“I was never afraid to try things. I was always prepared to risk in terms of winning a game of football,” the Scot emphasised in his recent interview with The Telegraph, which served as a prelude to his new book, Leading. His words will always stir fondness and leave every red wallowing in nostalgia, asking “what if?”
It has been almost impossible not to compare Sir Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United side with the one led by Louis van Gaal today. Both managers have won a lot in football and introduced great football talents. But when it comes to risk-taking, they couldn’t be further apart.
During the Ferguson era, Old Trafford was always like a graveyard for opponents. There’s almost no room for pragmatism. You play to score. Time never mattered nor did the names. You are always expected to win.
But this doesn’t seem to be the case under Louis van Gaal. The 64-year-old has complained about his players’ inability to kill off games. But that is maybe because they are constantly looking over their shoulders, preparing themselves for a backlash.
Barring the Brugge games and the outstanding victory against Liverpool, United have failed to score more than one goal in five games this season.
Letting Robin van Persie and Javier Hernandez leave so unceremoniously while sending Adnan Januzaj out on loan tells me that something is lacking in van Gaal’s understanding of the attacking culture at the club. Ferguson always made sure that he had four strikers at his disposal. He required goals.
Anthony Martial has shown a glimpse of what he can do, but it is unfair to expect too much from the youngster. James Wilson may or may not play in the red shirt this season, and Wayne Rooney may find himself shifted into the number-10 role.
The Dutchman was irked by a question about his captain’s goal drought in the Premier League. He retaliated by saying that Rooney had already scored a hat-trick in the Champions League, and that he expected other forward players to back the main striker.
The Iron Tulip needs to inject a fresh attacking mentality in his team. Rooney will score again and Martial will marvel. But for this to happen, you have to unleash your players and let them enjoy their game, but also give them breathing space to make mistakes.