Images of Louis Van Gaal choreographing the greatest comeback since Lazarus have left the minds of Manchester United fans and reality of life in the Premier League has begun to hit home.
The club still seems to be plagued by the same problems that hampered them last season, in which they finished seventh, their lowest league finish since 1990. A lack of technical ability, a less than certain defence and inconsistency from their star players has slumped United to only two points in three games this season.
In response to the terrible start, United have gone on a spending spree, setting transfer records and attracting some of the biggest names in world football to Old Trafford. Spending over £150 million, including the £59.7 million signing of Argentine winger Angel Di Maria, they have added six new players to their squad.
However will these additions remedy the ills that plague Old Trafford?
It is difficult to deny that United have roped in some of the world’s best and brightest players. The signings of young Luke Shaw, Spaniard Ander Herrera and Argentine World Cup finalist Marcus Rojo will have pleased some fans, but the additions of Di Maria from Real Madrid and Radamel Falcao, on loan from Monaco, have provided the twenty-time league winners with arguably the Premier League’s most threatening forward attack. With Wayne Rooney and Robin Van Persie already at his disposal, Van Gaal will be hoping to strike fear into the hearts of his Premier League opponents.
Furthermore, these signings seem to be arriving in Manchester on great form. Despite a promising, albeit dull debut against Burnley, Di Maria showcased his ability and skill whilst recently playing for Argentina, scoring a goal and assisting three others in a comprehensive 4-2 victory over World Champions Germany.
To add to this, Falcao remains one of the most prolific strikers in the world. Although he struggled to settle in at Monaco, with 104 goals in 139 games since arriving in Europe, and a scoring rate of one goal every 4 shots, goals are all but guaranteed.
And least we forget the deadline-day signing of Daley Blind from Ajax. A key member of Van Gaal’s successful Dutch side in Brazil, he has been brought to Old Trafford for his strength and versatility. Blind fits in perfectly with Van Gaal’s football ideology. Opting for a 3-5-2 formation in United’s opening games has proven to be a costly tactic, but one that, if played correctly, proves difficult for any team to play against. Having worked under Van Gaal, Blind understands what this style of play requires and has proven to be able to play well in midfield, wing-back and central defensive positions.
But will these players all fit into a faltering United team? Van Gaal’s initially diagnosis stressed the lack of balance in his squad. Given this, the absence of a world-class centre midfielder on United’s summer shopping list left fans scratching their heads. United’s faults have a number of possible sources, but with Tom Cleverly, Michael Carrick and Marouane Fellani, centre-midfield is a good place to start.
Most worryingly of all for some fans, Manchester United’s actions during the summer months has gone completely against everything the club has stood for. Whilst Chelsea and Manchester City threw money at their problems in recent years, United remained strong advocates of home-grown talent and a shrewd youth system. But the appointment of Van Gaal seems to have completely reversed attitudes at Carrington. United now seem more concern with buying world-beaters than developing their own.
Long gone are the days of the Class of ‘92’ and although it would be naïve to expect a deluge of incredible youngsters coming through the ranks each year, a club with the reputation, success and gravitas of Manchester United should at least be producing a clinical striker or playmaker every few seasons.
The reality is much worse. Competitive debuts for Saidy Janko, Tyler Blackett and Michael Keane simply showed just how far United’s youth system had fallen. Additionally, the sale of Danny Welbeck, United’s only player to have come through the ranks, for £16 million to rivals Arsenal, seems to have upset many around the club.
Mike Phelan, former assistant manager under Sir Alex Ferguson, spoke publically this week of United’s mentality. He said, “they have probably lost the way of Manchester United.
“Someone like a Danny Welbeck has been part of United’s identity and that has been broken. What will happen in the future now, nobody knows but the thread has been broken.”
David Beckham also voiced his disapproval of the sale of Welbeck. The former England captain said “To see him leave Manchester United is sad. He had been there since he was eight and his heart was in Manchester.”
But regardless of Van Gaal’s long-term plans for United, the signing of Di Maria and Falcao, rather than two established world-class defenders, provides incite into his overall plan for this season; to score goals. United will look to emulate Liverpool in simply scoring more goals than they concede. Although they may not win the league, if they can score over 100 goals, a top four finish will definitely be on the cards.
It is clear that Manchester United are going through a period of significant change. With a fiery manager at the helm, it is likely that the club will continue to spend big until they have a squad that plays at a level of his liking. That said, the biggest challenge Van Gaal will face is maintaining the club’s name and reputation. However, with a reputation for ruffling a few feathers, only time will tell as to whether he will go down in history as the man who resurrected one of Europe’s biggest clubs or as the manager that ignored the real problems and simply spent £150 million on a team full of egos and fluorescent boots.
By Gurjot Thind