Louis van Gaal`s era at United may begin with “kids” as back four
After a disastrous first season in the post Ferguson era, Manchester United are looking to commence the rebuilding process at Old Trafford without any delay. The club moved swiftly to anoint Louis van Gaal (LvG) as replacement for David Moyes, who had been sacked unceremoniously after just 10 months at the helm.
As it is evident, a new era will be ushered in at United now. With a new manager, who will shape the future of the club based on his vision and not be bogged down by the history of the club. Already there are clear indications of what to expect from United under Louis van Gaal – a team that will dominated by young, bold and exciting players, a bit like his Holland side at the 2014 FIFA World Cup.
Two such players – Anders Herrera and Luke Shaw, happen to be the first signings at United in the LvG era. United of course infamously tried to sign the Athletic Bilbao midfielder in the summer of 2013. The pursuit of the Spanish midfielder from the English champions was reduced to mockery and a huge embarrassment for the club as alleged imposters reached the La Liga offices to complete the transfer on deadline day.
After signing Hererra seamlessly this year, United also managed another marquee signing immediately on the next day, that of Luke Shaw, who had just arrived after England`s early exit at the World Cup. The left-back rose to prominence in the last couple of seasons with consistent performances for Southampton and even earned an England call-up. At that time, United had their first bid of £27m rejected for the 18-year-old.
Manchester United had been looking for a replacement for Patrice Evra for quite some time. The 33-year-old Frenchman signed for United in 2006 and would not be around for too long. It is no secret that Leighton Baines had been on the club`s radar for the last two years. However, that deal did not materialize, despite the best efforts of David Moyes and Ed Woodward.
At the time of his sacking, Moyes had outlined Luke Shaw as his main target and the heir to the mantle of being United`s first choice left-back after the ageing Evra bows out. The performances of the Frenchman have dropped in the last three years. Evra, who has been one of the first members on United`s team-sheet for several years, has now lost pace and is well past his prime.
Despite United handing Evra a one-year contract extension, the back-room boys at the club were actively seeking a full-time replacement for the Frenchman. United then prepared for a second round of talks with Southampton and placed a new and improved bid of £30m to lure Shaw to Old Trafford.
With LvG at the helm, despite him not resuming office as of now, there has been a sense of professionalism and decisiveness about United`s activity in the transfer market.
After the retirement of England great Ashley Cole, Shaw is in a direct fight with Everton`s Leighton Baines for a place on England`s left. Now that there is a certain shift in the England set-up, veering towards a younger team, Shaw is destined to be the first-choice left back for his country. Having more than a decade of playing time at his disposal, he could hold on to that position for the foreseeable future.
United signed Alex Buttner from Vitesse Arnhem in 2012 hoping he would be ready to take on the responsibility of manning the left flank for United. However, the persistence of glaring weaknesses in his game meant United had to sign an established full-back. Buttner had been inconsistent during the limited opportunities he got at United. He remained a squad player at best.
As the news of Shaw to United was doing the rounds, like all good agents, Buttner`s secured him a move away from Old Trafford to Dynamo Moscow citing the need for his client to play “champions league football”. With the arrival of the Saint`s left-back and Evra`s 1-year contract extension, Buttner would have been relegated to reserve games, which is why he moved on.
Shaw on the other hand, impressed at Southampton with his speed, stamina and defensive qualities. He has been one of the main reasons for Southampton`s eighth-place finish in the league this year, also their best ever finish, which also earned him a third place on the PFA Young Player of the Year list.
At 18, Shaw is already being looked at as one of the best talents in British football. Making it to the England World Cup squad at 18 is a remarkable achievement for the young left-back. He was even photographed crying while on the phone breaking the good news to his mother. Despite him not getting much playing time in Brazil, Shaw did reasonably well during the only opportunity he got against Costa-Rica.
After Shaw`s move to Old Trafford, there has been a lot of talk, whether making him the third most expensive defender in the world would be worth it. One of the greatest center-backs in United`s history, Rio Ferdinand said it was a no-brainer if the club could extract 10 good years out of the left back.
United`s dominance in England and their consistency in Europe has been built around stability at the back. Rio Ferdinand, Nemanja Vidic and Patrice Evra have been the core of all United teams since 2006. When Gary Neville retired, his place on the right was taken over by the young Rafael Da Silva, who was the youngest member of that back four.
Sir Alex Ferguson built two teams keeping that back four intact. All his teams could be flamboyant in attack due to the stability and consistency at the back. Cristiano Ronaldo may have walked away with the applause and awards, but United fans will know how crucial an ingredient their defence was to the perfect recipe devised by Ferguson when their team conquered England and Europe in 2008.
Since signing in 2006, Patrice Evra has made 273 appearances for United, which suggests that the core philosophy at the club is that of stability. Hence it made perfect business sense for United to invest in the 18-year-old left back even if it meant they had to match Southampton`s rising expectations.
Now that Rio Ferdiand and Nemanja Vidic have departed, United`s defence is brimming with young talent as the club has made no attempt to sign experienced replacements for the duo. There have reports of Thomas Vermaelen joining United in the summer, but nothing concrete yet. The club seems to have reposed it`s faith in younger players, especially at the back with Phil Jones, Chris Smalling, Luke Shaw and Rafael Da Silva, who is now the oldest member, in terms of experience, of this back four.
Jones is 22, Smalling 24, Rafael 23 and Shaw 18. If Louis van Gaal doest no sign an experienced defender till transfer deadline-day, this is what the United back four will look like. Kids? That is what the critics might say about this young and relatively inexperienced defence. Well, we all know what happened the last time someone said "you can`t win anything with kids" to Sir Alex Ferguson and the Class of 92.