The Sun (Malaysia)
Misfiring Devils hidden by Jose smokescreen
> Under Van Gaal United have become boring
HE IS still the story. As the headlines, the chat and those vast, fulminating tracts of newspaper acreage tell you. And you have to hand it to him – it’s not as if there’s nothing else to talk about: Arsenal looking at long last as if they might be title contenders, Jurgen Klopp’s positive effect on Liverpool, English clubs battling for the co-efficient in Europe. Oh, and there’s Manchester United.
The Jose Mourinho soap opera is offering a timely smokescreen for the woes of his friend and fellow narcissist Louis van Gaal. Were it not for the rivetting spectacle of the Chelsea boss’s implosion, expertly analysed elsewhere on our pages, the Dutch erstwhile master would be copping it big time.
As it is, it is left to Paul Scholes, almost mute as a player but who has suddenly found a resonant and articulate voice as a pundit, to put the boot in about the LVG regime. And once again the contrast with his playing days is stark.
Instead of tackling in a later time zone, his observations on United’s method – we can’t call it style – are spot on.
“I actually think the team is brilliantly coached to defend,” he told his TV audience.
“I think the hardest thing to do is to coach scoring goals, creativity and to have players who are off the cuff. It’s a team you wouldn’t want to play against and it’s probably a team you wouldn’t want to play in either.
“There’s a lack of risk and creativity. It seems he doesn’t want players to beat men and score goals – it’s not a team I would have enjoyed playing in.”
He singles out Wayne Rooney as an example of players finding it no fun anymore to take the field wearing the Dutchman’s straitjacket, brain befuddled by myriad instructions and seemingly tethered by a lead too short to take a serious bite out of pesky opponents.
What is obvious to everyone is that under LVG United have become boring to the point of being unwatchable.
Channel-switching is a reflex reaction while household chores have become a stimulating alternative to the tedium of all those sideways passes from Carrick to Smalling and back and getting nowhere. And that, even for a neutral, is not a sentence written lightly.
Love them or loathe them, we always enjoyed watching United under Fergie. But the man we thought was the nearest thing to the Scot in age, authority and stature, has been a major letdown. Indeed, if he carries on like this, we may have to look more kindly on David Moyes.
Where the ex-Evertonian was anxious to leave well alone, Van Gaal has shipped out virtually all Fergie’s players – those that cantered to the title by 11 points, if you remember – and, like a dictator who changes the palace wallpaper to eradicate every trace of his predecessor – and totally transformed the style of play. It is, Ryan Giggs apart, complete regime change.
But it is not just Fergie’s style he’s altered – it is United’s modus operandi for the past three-quarters of a century. Ever since the Busby Babes, United have played with panache while the Holy Trinity of Law, Best and Charlton elevated it to the realms of the divine. Even during the 26-year title drought, United never parked the bus and then came Fergie to reprise the late 60s golden age for a longer duration.
Let’s face it, the reason United have hundreds of millions of fans around the world is not just down to saturation marketing or Munich or even George Best – it’s also because they were always worth watching. Van Gaal is not just changing their DNA, he’s changing history.
So far, he’s been lucky. Lucky to follow the out-of-depth fumbling of Moyes and lucky the Glazers were prepared to throw money at the problem. The jury gave him the benefit of considerable doubt after he achieved a return to the Champions League.
He spent wildly again last summer and with a scattergun approach. He paid way over the odds and with no rhyme or reason. But his luck held with David de Gea staying and Anthony Martial’s arrival. Without those two, he’d be back in Moyes territory.
He cannot afford to mess up tomorrow as United are in a group where anybody can go through and it probably won’t be decided till the last day. He wasn’t given half a billion to play in the Europa League.
Nor is it a given they will be in the top four again at the end of the season.
With Arsenal and Manchester City guaranteed, there are just two places available even if you discount Chelsea. But with Liverpool and Spurs improving and Southampton refusing to fold, non-scoring United have it all to do.
De Gea saved them again on Saturday – you almost don’t notice his continued brilliance – and there are signs that the natives in the red half of Manchester are beginning to get restless. Anything other than a win over CSKA tonight will be greeted by howls of derision.
It would be unthinkable to miss out on the business end of the Champions League from such a mediocre group, and the Thursday/ Sunday schedule is not conducive to a top four challenge. Van Gaal has another year on his contract but failure at home and in Europe accompanied by boring football could well see him failing to leave what he’d hoped would be a legacy.
He has wasted a fortune, players don’t fit and United can no longer attract the really big names. And you always sense that rather than restoring the club to former glories, he’s on a mission of personal glorification.
It has to change. Already, there are those who would snap up Pep or Carlo Ancelotti right now. LVG has to be granted until the end of the season but unless he effects a major turnaround, he has to go. United can lose but must have style. Kalah tak apa, style mesti ada.