Louis van Gaal needs more than just new signings to turn around Manchester United's fortunes
New manager will get a first glimpse of the work required to repair the damage of last season in Wednesday's friendly against LA Galaxy
Published 21/07/2014 | 14:55
For a team in need of a fair amount of cosmetic surgery, Louis van Gaal could not have chosen a more appropriate setting than Los Angeles for the beginning of his reign as Manchester United manager.
In the self-styled capital of nip-and-tuck, Van Gaal will get his first glimpse of the work required to repair the damage of last season – much of it inflicted during the years leading up to David Moyes’s wholly forgettable campaign in charge at Old Trafford – when United take on LA Galaxy at the Pasadena Rose Bowl on Wednesday evening in California.
Despite the feelgood factor generated by Van Gaal’s run to the World Cup semi-finals with Holland, however, the reality facing the Dutchman is that serious work is needed if United are to return to prominence this season.
Van Gaal worked a minor miracle with the Dutch in Brazil, but it will be harder to repeat the trick with United.
The squad Van Gaal has inherited from Moyes requires more than a mere touch-up job to paper over the cracks. He will need the powers of alchemist to turn United into challengers for the Premier League unless he quickly improves the hand that he has been dealt at Old Trafford.
Van Gaal’s task has been helped, of course, by the charitable start United face in the league this season.
Unlike Moyes, whose lack of self-confidence and belief was betrayed by his repeated complaints about the tough start United faced as champions twelve months ago, Van Gaal has been given platform to build upon during the opening two months of this campaign.
But the comfortable start to the season is one of the few positives United’s new manager can cling to as he prepares to get to work in Los Angeles this week.
There are several areas which must be addressed and, despite the signings of Luke Shaw and Ander Herrera, United’s squad is arguably weaker than it was at the end of last season, when they trailed in seventh, missing out on European football for the first time since the 1980s.
Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic have left the club, with Patrice Evra due to follow the centre-halves out of the exit door by completing a move to Juventus.
Michael Carrick is sidelined for at least three months with an ankle injury, while the likes of Anderson and Bebe have returned from loan spells unwanted by both United and the clubs they spent last season playing for.
Efforts to land proven performers, the world-class stars United require, have so far come to nothing, even though the club has made it clear that they possess both the money and the ambition to recruit elite players.
So Van Gaal is left with a squad which, in its current state, is not good enough to compete for honours.
The midfield options are worryingly lacking in experience and proven quality with Carrick injured and Ryan Giggs now having retire, but it is in defence where Van Gaal faces his biggest challenge.
In the space of one summer, United will have lost three-quarters of the back four which won the Champions League in Moscow in 2008, not to mention countless league titles before and after that night in the Luzhniki Stadium.
How will United line up at the back this season with Vidic, Ferdinand and Evra all gone?
Rafael da Silva remains rash and unpredictable at right-back, while Jonny Evans, Phil Jones and Chris Smalling must overcome repeated injury problems to prove wrong those doubters who believe they lack the quality to replace Ferdinand and Vidic.
Shaw has been signed to replace Evra, but the England youngster still has much to learn before he can be considered the solution at left-back.
During Holland’s run to the semi-finals in Brazil, Van Gaal made a big play of the experienced quintet in his squad which proved the bedrock for the Dutch success.
Robin van Persie, Arjen Robben, Wesley Sneijder, Nigel de Jong and Dirk Kuyt were the seasoned performers who Van Gaal relied upon to guide the younger element of the squad through the competition.
But at United, Van Gaal has seen the experienced brain trust disappear this summer, leaving behind a squad lacking proving credentials outside of Van Persie and Wayne Rooney.
United can sign as many players as they wish before the start of the season, but they cannot replace the experience of those who have left and that is perhaps Van Gaal’s biggest problem.
His powers of motivation and organisation will undoubtedly ensure an instant improvement from those players who were so unimpressed by Moyes that they eased up and stopped performing.
But at some point, the younger players will need guidance and support on the pitch and the candidates to offer that are thin on the ground.
Nonetheless, optimism is high at United that this season will be better than last and that Van Gaal will avoid the mistakes made by Moyes.
The new man, at least, will arrive at Old Trafford instilling the good habits learned at Ajax, Barcelona and Real Madrid rather than attempting to convince a group of winners that a philosophy developed at Preston and Everton really was the route to follow.
Van Gaal’s track record will only take him so far, though.
Unless he really is a miracle worker, he will need to fill big holes quickly at United to avoid another season of frustration and one which could take the shine off his World Cup exploits with the Dutch.
United could have got away with cosmetic surgery last summer, but their failure to act twelve months ago – Woodward must share the blame with Moyes for that – has left Van Gaal not knowing where to start.
A facelift will not suffice this time. Full reconstruction is required.