The die is cast. Despite securing silverware at the death, Van Gaal’s tenure at Old Trafford has come and gone. Many fans will say they are glad to see the back of him. Mediocre results and a moribund playing style certainly didn’t win him a lot of plaudits.
However, if there is one positive we can take from Van Gaal’s reign, it is his commitment to nurturing young talent. He has built a youthful squad which possesses the foundations to go on and compete at the highest level.
His emphasis on youth became clear at the beginning of the season when he brought nineteen-year-old Anthony Martial to Old Trafford. Van Gaal himself admitted that Martial was not yet the finished package, but a signing for the future; a player with all the makings of a world class star.
Furthermore, he promoted a number of players from the academy. Jesse Lingard has featured heavily this season and repaid the faith shown in him by scoring the winner in the FA Cup final. Similarly, the promising Cameron Borthwick-Jackson has been given valuable experience. Most captivatingly, Van Gaal threw Rashford into the fire, and the youngster’s excellent performances since have seen him catapulted into the England setup for Euro 2016.
The decision to show confidence in our youngsters is commendable given the constant clamour for immediate results. A long-term approach is rare in today’s Premier League culture, where instant gratification reigns supreme, and few managers have taken a similar gamble. Indeed, Van Gaal has been responsible for 23% of all minutes played by teenagers in the Premier League this season.
In this regard, Van Gaal has been the flag-bearer of a proud tradition. Every Manchester United team since 1937 has included at least one homegrown player. Every successful team has been built on a strong core of local boys, from the Busby Babes who were mostly born a few miles from the ground, to the famous Class of 92. Such trends are increasingly rare in modern football.
No one demonstrates the obedience to short-termism more than incoming boss Jose Mourinho. The Portuguese manager has always favoured drafting battle-hardened professionals already at the peak of their careers. Countless promising young players have languished on the bench during his reign.
Furthermore, there is a sense that Mourinho sometimes lacks the foresight to spot talent. He let the likes of Romelu Lukaku and Kevin De Bruyne leave Stamford Bridge. Two players Chelsea would love to have as they now attempt to rebuild their creaking squad.
The Manchester United faithful can only hope that Mourinho follows Van Gaal’s lead and pays attention to some of the excellent kids who will continue to be produced at Carrington.
Are you optimistic on that front? Let us know what you think in the comments below…