Three careers that Louis van Gaal has revived at Manchester United
A generation of Manchester United fans have grown up watching their team play football and not knowing what failure is. After the inception of the Premier League in 1992, no team has dominated English football like the team from Old Trafford.
Understandably, fans weren’t prepared for handing out the long rope to David Moyes as he tried to occupy the gargantuan shoes of Sir Alex Ferguson. Clearly out of his depth, the Scot led a disastrous campaign that culminated in his unceremonious sacking, as fans bayed for his blood, after just 10 months at the helm of the one of the world’s most popular football clubs.
After missing out on European qualification, aftereffects of the David Moyes tenure were devastating. One major off-shot of the whole saga was the effect it had on morale and confidence of the squad that led to slump in the form of several key players.
In came Louis van Gaal (LvG), with an impressive resume but also a nasty reputation. Legend to some, dictator to others – the Dutchman’s arrival at Old Trafford signaled uncertainty for a squad that was not only dethroned but also demoralized.
Right from the club's pre-season tour to the United States, LvG was frank and forthright with his views about the squad he inherited from his predecessor. He called it a 'broken' squad.
As he began wielding his axe, the atmosphere around Old Trafford was shrouded with anxiety and unpredictability. The new manager took charge of his latest assignment by shipping out players he thought were surplus to requirements.
However, some of the retained players were not just out of form, but also lucky to still be at the club after a string of woeful performances. As he began implementing his blueprint for the next three years, LvG helped revive the careers of some players at the club, rejuvenating them in the process.
Here, we look at three players who have improved immeasurably since the reins of club were handed to the Dutchman.
Ashley Young has been a revelation under Louis van Gaal. The England international was one of the players who received plenty of flak from United fans last season and a majority of them were even hoping he would be sold off in the summer. Contrary to popular belief, Young impressed the new manager during the pre-season tour games in the US.
LvG employed him in a position that is not natural to the winger, as a left-wing back. Young adapted well to his new position and performed with consistency when he was called on as a substitute or to replace an injured player.
United shifted from a traditional back four to a back five, in which Young found favour with the manager in most games. After Luke Shaw's injury, Young has made the left-wing back position his own, starting in four of the six matches that United won on the trot.
The 29-year-old impressed even his staunch critics in the high pressure game against Liverpool, where he held his own ground against Glen Johnson and Jordan Henderson.
LvG has shown he implicitly trusts Young in big matches and that has probably transformed the player who was struggling to make a mark at United since arriving from Aston Villa.
Like Ashley Young, LvG has experimented with a similar formula with Antonio Valencia. The right-winger has been converted into a right-back and right-wing back at times by the manager.
Since his arrival at Old Trafford, Valencia has been used as a utility player. He has taken up several different positions as per the manager's demand. However, apart from one stellar season in 2011-12, the Ecuadorian has not had a major impact at the club.
However, after the departure of Sir Alex, Moyes failed to effectively utilize the services of the winger. As the collective form of the team slumped, Valencia's individual performances took a hit and his play became more one-dimensional and therefore more predictable.
But LvG seems to have provided a new lease of life to the player, who seemed short on confidence last season. Winning a manager's trust has done wonders to Valencia's confidence this term.
As his performances this season have indicated, Valencia is enjoying his football, like in 2012, no longer afraid to bomb down the pitch, take on players and fire in the crosses. Though, his play still remains one-dimensional, newfound confidence means he has more conviction in beating opposition wing-backs.
Against Liverpool, the 29-year-old beat two players on the right to setup Wayne Rooney's goal. Had David De Gea not put in his best performance in a United shirt, Valencia clearly was Man of the Match that day.
Marouane Fellaini is lucky to still wear United's red. Like his former Everton boss, the midfielder too seemed to be on his way out of Old Trafford in the summer. Fortunately for him, an ankle injury meant his transfer to Italian club Napoli could not be completed.
The Belgian was signed for £27.5m last season, but failed to get the nod of approval from the United fans. He was slow and sloppy in the middle of park, failed to score a goal all season and was one of the worst players in possession – giving the ball away far too easily.
But after recovering from injury to returning to the squad in October, Fellaini has been a key figure in United's league revival. Apart from getting the monkey off his back by opening his goal-scoring account, the 27-year-old started dominating his opponents in the midfield, winning more headers and breaking up play to win back possession.
The midfielder told media reporters about being made a scapegoat for United's failings last season and how he fought hard to demonstrate he was a Manchester United material.
Having played a key role in United's six-match winning streak, it would be safe to say Fellaini now commands a place in the club's midfield.
As the numbers clearly suggest, the Belgian has showcased vast improvements under Louis van Gaal. Coming back from injury and amid uncertainty of his place and position at the club, Fellaini's transformation has been truly remarkable.
Despite spending big in summer to inject talent in the region of £150 million to the squad, LvG has turned around the club's fortunes on the back of reviving careers of players from previous successful campaigns. From David De Gea to Robin van Persie, it is evident that a newfound belief and confidence among players is at the heart of LvG's quiet revolution in Manchester.