When Angel Di Maria chipped the ball over Kasper Schmeichel’s head back in September, it seemed like a eureka moment. The United faithful felt they had finally put a calamitous season behind them. With the shock summer signings, everyone was eager to embark on an exciting new era. The optimism was justified, but the turnaround didn’t materialise quite as quickly as many hoped.
Louis van Gaal had to repeat himself almost every Friday. His “process” was inaugurated in autumn, hit rock-bottom in winter, and, just as temperatures peaked in early spring, he declared it fulfilled.
Finding anyone who can accurately describe what that process was is something of a challenge, but the manager’s methods undoubtedly bore fruit against Manchester City, where a dazzling Ashley Young not only marginalised the club’s most expensive player, but also regained the manager’s trust.
Thanks to Van Gaal’s apparent philosophy, which was condemned as boring on this site and in the press, the likes of Young, Fellaini and Valencia were transformed from peripheral figures into first team regulars.
The Iron Tulip kept everyone on their toes throughout. His relentless experimentation with personnel and formations was widely blamed for United’s failure to perform, and was ripe for social media mockery, but his refusal to rule out any options is perhaps what helped him get the best out of his soldiers in battle.
Ahead of this summer’s US tour, the gaffer has again reiterated his willingness to give everyone the chance they deserve. Unlike Sir Alex Ferguson, he doesn’t mind singling out a player for a personal criticism, but he will also praise them when they deserve it. For him, it is a simple equation: you train hard; you play. Slack off, like Januzaj, however, and you’ll find your opportunities restricted.
United didn’t always entertain as much as we’d like last season, but there were some great performances against our biggest rivals, and whilst Di Maria and Falcao were hugely disappointing, Van Gaal’s reinvention of a few players he inherited was a remarkable achievement in itself. He is a bullish winner, and I believe he is more than capable of delivering both joy and glory for United fans in what is left for him before retirement.