Louis Van Gaal’s “Red Devil Revolution” might have won over the British press quickly but how is he serving as an effective custodian of Manchester United’s future? David Moyes made an effort to transition properly to the next era of Manchester United players giving Tom Cleverley and Danny Welbeck more time on the pitch and worked to transition the backline.
Friday, it was revealed that Danny Welbeck has been told he is free to leave the club by Van Gaal. If this is the case, Manchester United has given up on one of its best home grown players of the past decade, a player who is good enough to feature regularly for England. Yet Van Gaal using a 3-5-2 formation, which logically would require a striker that can pair with either Robin van Persie or Wayne Rooney, does not see Welbeck in that role. One wonders whom he sees in this role that would be superior to Welbeck.
The decision to anoint Wayne Rooney as captain is another curious decision. Sir Alex Ferguson preferred to have the armband worn by a mature player with leadership skills and the respect of his teammates. In Rooney, Van Gaal has picked a player that openly sulks and has threatened to leave the club on multiple occasions. Rooney’s demonstrative petulance is a trademark of a player that many feel has never completely matured. No doubt exists that he is one of the very finest footballers on the planet when on his game, but his behavior and lack of leadership skills make his selection as captain truly bizarre and perhaps damaging to the manager.
Van Gaal’s insistence on using a 3-5-2 formation has been hailed by some quarters of the British press as “genius.” Yet in the first competitive match under the Dutch manager, United was opened up and torn apart by Swansea. Van Gaal often played a 4-3-3 in his previous club stints but sprung the 3-5-2 on Spain in the World Cup and has stuck with the formation all summer with both the Netherlands and now Manchester United.
But does Manchester United really need to play a 3-5-2? Only time will tell on this, but the quickness with which many in the press declared use of this formation “genius,” when previously Kenny Dalglish, Roberto Mancini, Steve Bruce and Brendan Rodgers were at various times in recent years aggressively critiqued for playing the formation, is telling.
But to play this formation, Van Gaal must upgrade the Red Devils’ defense. This has yet to happen as Marcos Rojo is the only highly-rated defender ready to feature that the club has signed this summer. Luke Shaw, despite a great season at Southampton last year, is more a signing for the future than a likely current stalwart at left back.
Meanwhile in England, Van Gaal has mesmerized large elements of the British press with his caustic press conferences and incredible degree of self-confidence.
Just three years ago Van Gaal was sacked at Bayern, following a disastrous season where Borussia Dortmund featured a number of young stars, an exciting brand of football has overtaken the Bavarian giants. When the Dutchman was sacked, club chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge stated Bayern had “no alternative but to part company with Van Gaal.” Bayern President Uli Hoeness went even further saying “Football should be enjoyable, but there has been nothing enjoyable about football at FC Bayern for a while now.”
No doubt Bayern is a tough place to manage and the club hierarchy tends to be demanding, elitist and snobbish. But Van Gaal failed miserably in Munich just a year after reaching a Champions League final with a side that he largely inherited with the exception of the signing of Arjen Robben.
Given the longevity that Manchester United supporters expect from their managers and the club culture that demands patience and loyalty, it can be strongly argued Van Gaal might be the wrong man for the job.
In time we will know if this was simply a summer of false hope for Manchester United under a well-traveled short-term manager or the start of a new era of greatness. However, what has transpired thus far leads me to believe the former is more likely.