The most damning accusation so often levelled at Manchester United’s Dutch manager, Louis van Gaal, is his team’s style of play. But how United play is completely void of just that, style.
So painfully boring is United’s play that during the several goalless draws in recent times the anger in the ground was palpable, despite the not wholly negative results. Chants of “You don’t know what you’re doing” broke out in the fabled Stretford End, chanted by fans who became so used to the free flowing football under Sir Alex Ferguson that they only knew how good they had it when it was gone.
As much as they don’t want to believe it, the droves of United fans across the world on Twitter calling for Van Gaal’s head will not be the ones who will cost him his job. That will be the away day fans. The most hardcore group of fans who travel the length and breadth of England to watch United play are by far the most vocal and the most obvious to the execs at United, who may ultimately be responsible for sacking the Dutchman.
Last month at Selhurst Park came the most defiant chants from these supporters yet. After Paul Scholes echoed the thoughts of so many fans when he spoke of his gripe with Van Gaal’s methods, they passionately sang the midfielder’s old chant. Even the now 40-year-old Scholes and his older teammates for David Beckham’s charity match on Saturday at times played more fluid, attacking football than United have since the former Barcelona coach took over.
The supporters’ biggest problem with Van Gaal is typified by two players. Marouane Fellaini is quickly becoming the symbol of a second failed manager in a row. He was synonymous with all that was wrong with David Moyes, indecision. He was never wanted due to his stupidly inflated price after a series of mistakes by Moyes and Ed Woodward drove the price up.
When Moyes left, it seemed inevitable the Belgian too would be shown the door. He now represents the sleep-inducing football that Van Gaal calls his philosophy. “Long ball United” was what Sam Allardyce so famously named the Dutchman’s team which stole an undeserved point at Upton Park in February. Van Gaal’s disgusted reaction, and the entire story, defines the United boss. Wretched football followed by pig-headed obstinacy. The raucous boos at the departure of Anthony Martial against CSKA Moscow were not just at the French starlet’s departure but at the arrival of the languishing and utterly useless Fellaini.
Watching all this unfold from his second home on the bench was a brilliant Basque. Ander Hererra is possibly the player most loved by the fans. He represents the antithesis of Van Gaal. Clever, dynamic and exciting, Hererra’s name is often chanted by the fans along with cries of “Attack”. Of the 76,000 odd people in The Theatre of Dreams each week, it seems only one man fails to see Hererra’s brilliance and necessity.
The fans will never expect to win every week. That’s not what they ask. What they will demand is Manchester United football, and it’s becoming increasingly obvious that Van Gaal is not the man to do it.
Rory Murphy, Pundit Arena