Manchester United: Were the Red Devils wrong in sacking Louis van Gaal?
By Shaurya Khilani
After days of speculation, Manchester United finally sacked their highly-rated and experienced manager Louis van Gaal. It's safe to assume that the reason for his sacking was United's failure to qualify for the Champions League and the lack of goals.
LVG was constantly criticized about the 'style of play' he enforced his team with, as many believed that a team of United's stature should adopt a more attractive style, as that's what they were famous for.
England's most successfull club scored just 49 league goals and were criticized for their attacking display or, the lack of it. Interestingly enough, the famous 'attacking' club finished the season with most backward passes.
Even though, most people will consider the criticisms to be true. However, in the Duthcman's defense, we could always ask: Didn't United already know that LVG's teams tend to play from the back and they rarely hit the ground running from the outset?
LVG's teams usually start slow, grinding through, then gelling midway and finish strongly towards the end of the season. The 64-year-old is what he terms himself to be a "prozesstrainer", which means there is a significant learning curve to overcome before his teams start achieving full potential.
If we take a look at last season, after a very poor start, Man Utd went on an incredible run, where they only lost twice in 22 games, winning 16 games. In the process, they beat Manchester City, Arsenal, Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool — all top teams. This illustrates that when van Gaal's teams click, they are extremely efficient and effective.
Besides, the Red Devils had the joint best defensive record along with Tottenham. They conceded only 35 goals.
His teams aim to take control of the game and defend by having possession. For him, it's as simple as – if you don't have the ball, you can't score. They pass the ball around, attempting to draw a man or two out of their position, then exploit the space thus created.
As defenders hold the ball and draw the opposition out to press, his attackers move into the spaces vacated by the opposition and exploit it while his defenders sit deeper and deeper. Indeed a very difficult tact. This system is known as 'total football', termed and innovated by the Dutch and FC Barcelona legend Johan Cruyff.
However, with a talented squad, there still should be enough chances created to win a game. To implement this strategy, he used Daley Blind as centre back as the talented Dutch player can defend and also release long balls to the forwads, thanks to his vision.
Also towards the end of he season, LVG used Wayne Rooney as a central midfielder so that the England captain could hold the ball, thus allowing their fast and furious duo of Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford to roam free into spaces behind.
And, not to forget, he is the first manager at Old Trafford to win a trophy after Sir Alex Ferguson's retirement.
Danny Blind, head coach of the Netherlands National Football team, one-time assistant manager to LVG and father of United defender Blind, has hit out at the club management regarding the manner in which the former Bayern Munich manager was sacked.
Some have labelled it as a huge Public Relations failure as LVG found out about his sacking from the media, rather than the management.
It shouldn't come as a surprise as this isn't the first time that United have not been able to communicate their intentions to the manager before the media caught wind of it. The axing of David Moyes took a similar tune, as the club was unable to inform the Scot about his sacking.
Everything can't be bright and beautiful, LVG has his misgivings. His man-management skills have been criticized by Zlatan Ibrahimovic as he lamented LVG couldn't treat a team of 22 stars like 22 year-old kids.
Dennis Bergkamp criticised his autocracy as he wanted to control a huge part of his team's individual lives. United legend Paul Scholes criticized LVG of being delusional because of his use of the 3-5-2 formation just because it worked for Netherlands in the World Cup while also infamously saying 'The players are bored, fans are bored, everyone's bored. You look across at the bench and van Gaal looks bored as well'.
And Johan Cruyff didn't like LVG's militaristic approach towards his version of 'total football'.
LVG spent around 250 million pounds during his tenure but his team were only able to produce pedestrian football. Majority of that was spent on Angel Di Maria, Memphis Depay and Anthony Martial.
It would be safe to say that Martial was among the few positive things United can bank on from van Gaal's legacy. While Depay was a huge flop, since he is only 22 years old, we can expect him to shine in the years to come.
On the contrary, Di Maria wasn't exactly a flop in the one season he played, because during the first 6 months, he was topping the assists charts of the Premier League before he fell-out with LVG.
All said and done, LVG is gone and United are expected to announce Jose Mourinho as their new manager anytime soon. Ironically enough, Mourinho was Louis van Gaal's assistant during his time at Barcelona. Mourinho is said to have inherited his dictorian style of management from LVG.
Well what's more ironic is that the Red Devils are set to bring in the undisputed 'specialist' in boring football (pun intended) to replace a manger sacked due to his boring approach towards the sport.
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