5 reasons LVG should stay
He signed Martial
Anthony Martial won the Golden Boy award earlier this week. Yes, that accolade is shared by Anderson, but there’s plenty to suggest that Martial is a world class striker in the making. The fact that Van Gaal was able to spot this relatively unknown talent and bring him to Manchester reflects well on the manager, and shows his emphasis on building for the future.
He’s turned Smalling into a top defender
Not long ago, Chris Smalling was far from the first name on the teamsheet. Under Van Gaal, he has rapidly matured into an extremely capable centre back who has been one of United’s standout performers this season. He still has plenty to learn, but development under LvG is testament to the manager’s influence.
He built a squad designed to give youth a chance
Whilst some would characterise Van Gaal’s squad clearout as overly ruthless and naive, this was the only way our youth products were likely to ge their chance to prove their worth. By really paring things back, he’s given the likes of Lingard, Pereira et al a genuine opportunity at the club.
He’s completely overhauled the team and deserves more than 18 months to make it work
The complete list of ins and outs under Van Gaal is staggering – the team has undergone a radical rebuild, and whilst we all know that £250m is a lot of money to spend, the scale of the transition that’s taken place can’t be overlooked. Considering the level of change LvG has overseen, he arguably deserves more time to show where he’s taking the club.
The alternatives don’t look great
Even if you disregard the arguments above and you’re convinced Van Gaal needs to go now, what are the realistic alternatives? Ancelotti appears to be joining Bayern in the summer, whilst reports suggest Guardiola will be heading to Man City. Right now, we know Mourinho’s available, but is he really the manager we want? He’d do nothing for our long term youth prospects and, whilst he could well win us a trophy or two, is simply not an option that appeals to me at all. Perhaps Pochettino would come, but he lacks experience at a big club, and would be a gamble despite his impressive work at Spurs. Then there’s Giggs, but there’s little evidence he would be up to the job at this stage in his career, whilst Neville is yet to win a league game with Valencia. Sacking LVG is an easy thing to demand, but in practice, that creates new problems and dilemmas.
5 reasons LVG should go
He’s persisting with Rooney
Wayne Rooney looks like a spent force. A player who once generated momentum and purpose within the team now hangs there like a dead weight; a rusting, warped cog in an already faltering machine. Van Gaal’s insistence on playing Rooney despite his tragic, end-of-days form is impossible to justify.
He’s left United insanely under-powered up-front
With Rooney offering precious little and Martial’s exceptional promise at times blunted through being shifted out wide, Van Gaal finds himself resorting to playing Fellaini, Memphis, or, as we saw this weekend against Norwich, Chris Smalling, up-front. Meanwhile, Hernandez is scoring for fun in Germany, and James Wilson watches from Brighton as the likes of Cameron Borthwick-Jackson rack up minutes with the first team. LvG’s personnel policy in this area has been at best negligent, and at worst absolutely f*cking insane.
He doesn’t trust unpredictable talents
Di Maria’s move to United went wrong for a number of reasons, but Van Gaal’s refusal to accommodate his creativity was clearly a big part of the problem. The likes of Nani and Rafael saw their United careers ended for similar reasons, whilst even Ander Herrera is being marginalised in favour of more predictable but significantly less dynamic talents. Many of United’s greatest attacking players from recent generations, from Giggs to Cantona to Ronaldo, have all boasted the kind of individualist genius that LvG seems unwilling to encourage. The fear is that he is drilling this creative streak out of players like Memphis, and that we look like a team devoid of players able to do something unexpected. With a system so focused on patient possession, this seems like exactly the kind of quality we should be looking to unleash.
He never leaves the dugout
Giggs made his way to the touchline during the dismal 1-2 defeat to Norwich at Old Trafford on Saturday, which was refreshing, but he offered little more than his usual, perpetually confused expression. As the manager – someone who is able to command total attention and respect in training, press conferences and elsewhere by all accounts – Van Gaal is the one who should be there, on the touchline, providing instructions and encouragement when his team are failing to execute his plan. How much difference that stuff really makes is debateable, but the symbolic power of such behaviour is real, and Van Gaal’s refusal to wield that power is odd, to say the least.
The entertainment has almost completely disappeared
This is hardly breaking news, but United are no longer fun to watch. We weren’t always fun to watch under Fergie – I know that – but we were never as consistently boring as we have been under Van Gaal. I don’t care if it seems overly-entitled or tactically naive to demand that United entertain – that’s what the fans expect, and that’s what the club’s identity depends on. We want stability – nobody wants kamikaze football without some balance at the back – but there have been plenty of instances throughout LvG’s tenure where teams were there for the taking, yet we persisted with a maddeningly cautious approach. At home to PSV, for instance, we lined up with far too defensive a shape, and showed no adventure at all as the game fizzled its way to a 0-0 draw. There are still fleeting moments, although increasingly rare, where the players threaten to remind us what they’re capable of – stringing together fragments of aesthetically appealing play – but the new normal at United is a plodding, passive style that has fans yawning their way through games and rethinking the meaning of the Theatre of Dreams.