Louis van gaal’s appointment as manger of Manchester United was one which was received almost universal approval from the Old Trafford faithful. Why wouldn’t it?
His CV speaks for itself; a multiple trophy winner at Bayern Munich, Barcelona, Ajax and AZ Alkmaar, who also guided Holland to third place in this year’s World Cup, qualified him as the ideal candidate to revive the club after David Moyes’ disastrous tenure.
So far, Van Gaal has done nothing to dispel these hopes. United have won all six of their pre-season games, added a piece of silverware to the cabinet and there seems now to be a genuine feeling of positivity emanating form the club. However, with the transfer deadline looming and the season opener just two days away, the Dutchman’s lack of activity in the transfer market should be of genuine concern.
United’s two purchases this summer, Luke Shaw and Ander Herrera, were initiated by Moyes, and only approved by Van Gaal. Of course, Moyes tried to buy Herrera last year, culminating in an embarrassing fiasco for the club, and a horrid first transfer window for the Scot, which would only yield Marouane Fellani.
Shaw and Herrera, we were told by Ed Woodward, were only a precursor for a slew of big names that would arrive at United in the post World Cup, thanks to the blank cheque written by the Glaziers has written.
Subsequently, United have been linked with everyone from Arturo Vidal, Kevin Strootman, Daley Blind, Matts Hummels, Marco Reus, Edison Cavani and more. Yet, the only formal offer they have made was for Thomas Vermaelen, who would sign for Barcelona.
It does’t take a tactical genius to see United are most vulnerable at the back and in the middle third, the former being exacerbated by Shaw’s recent hamstring injury, which will keep him out for a month. And, indeed, the departures of Rio Ferdinand, Nemaja Vidic and Patrice Evra.
The 3-5-2 system Van Gaal favours, employs three centre-backs, as we all know at this stage. As it stands, United only have three centre halves in total; Jonny Evans, Chris Smalling and Phil Jones, with the latter two lacking in concentrated periods in the position.
Smalling and Jones have proven themselves to be poor decision makers and positionally naive and, while Evans is the most attuned and mature operator of the trio, he has always been under the watchful eye of Vidic or Ferdinand. Van Gaal has said he will not start youngsters Michael Keane and Tyler Blackett with regularity, so he’s not exactly spoilt for choice
Thus, with things being the way they are, United need none of the three to get injured, and two of them to radically improve before the visit of Swansea on Saturday. If United fail to acquire Hummels, which appears ever-more likely given his been named the new club captain at Borussia Dortmund, a last day panic buy could be in the offing.
There is a credible argument to made that United haven’t had a marquee central midfield since the heyday of Roy Keane and Paul Scholes. After that incredible partnership disbanded, Alex Ferguson failed to recruit real quality in the position, and for that he is culpable. Last season the inertia of Michael Carrick (also currently injured) and incompetence of Fellani was almost laughable. Which is why Van Gaal’s decision to pass on Toni Kroos is so curious, and may come back to haunt him.
Herrera has shown promise during his brief time at the club and Darren Fletcher appears to have a new lease of life but, in all honesty, they are not elite players, and would simply be blown away by the likes of Chelsea, whose additions in that area have been top notch. This is compounded by the fact that Tom Cleverly, Fellani and the talented, but out of sorts Shinji Kagawa are the only other options available to Van Gaal.
With Juan Mata thankfully reprising his natural No 10 role, there are two places to fill. Ideally, United would like a pivot, the sort of player who can claim possession from his defenders, and put the side in motion, while controlling the tempo of a contest — á la Toni Kroo, but that’s not to be. In time Hererra may well fill this void, but it’s too soon to tell.
This sort of guile would be best complimented by a dynamic box-to box, muscular presence. Step forward Arturo Vidal. Apart from an impressive World Cup, the Chilean has been an indispensable part of the Juventus team that won three consecutive Serie A titles.
Vidal has been most linked with United and his future has been the source of much speculation, though without any real development. United should break bank for him if needs be, and here’s why.
He is the perfect amalgam of brain and brawn, think Roy Keane circa 1996. He has the tank to protect his back four — god knows they’ll need-before marauding forwards to aid in attack. He is an athletic, intelligent footballer, who scored 40 league goals over the last three seasons, while attempting more tackles per 90 minutes than any other player in the Italian top-flight.
His vim and vigour should imbue his teammates, and inspire a support-base left utterly dejected by the calamity of last season. Yet, Van Gaal seems to have his heart set on Roma’s Kevin Strootman, who will be out of action until January, at which stage United’s season could be over-it’s a huge risk.
Van Gaal is known to be somewhat arrogant, and he’s probably entitled to that. But, if he thinks that competing with Man City, Liverpool, Chelsea and Arsenal — all of whom have been very active in the market — with his current squad is a realistic proposition, he’s made the jump to delusional.