Manchester United fans deliver damning verdict on 'boring', 'dreadful' Louis van Gaal
Jim White asks a selection of United's high-profile - and die-hard - fans about their club's season. And the results are not pretty...
What do the fans think of the football United are playing this season?
Gary Whelan, drummer of the Happy Mondays:
It’s boring. Simple as. Dull. My dad took me to my first game in 1968, it’s not always been good times since then, not always been about cups and trophies. But there is such a thing as the United way: two wingers and attack, go for goal, never give in. Now all we seem to do is pass sideways.
Barney Chilton, editor of the fanzine Red News:
Initially there was progress under Louis Van Gaal, better players, back in the top four. But it seems to have stalled. And the pace of our attacks as well as the performances is now a major concern.
Clive Tyldesley once said United always score. Now we always pass. And it has riled fans who want to see more of a swagger than a philosophy.
Sean Bones, administrator of the Manchester United Supporters Trust online forum:
The two fundamentals of being a United fan are at issue here. First is the United way, the kind of football laid down by Sir Matt Busby who used to point at Trafford Park and tell his players they had a responsibility to bring some light and joy into the lives of the people who worked there.
Second is to win trophies and be successful. At the moment we are doing neither.
Michael Crick, Channel 4 News Political Correspondent:
Dreadful. I’ve never known anything like it. I’m old enough to remember how bad it was under Dave Sexton and this is far worse. It’s so joyless.
Why has this come about?
SB: LVG inherited a mess. We needed a strong personality to steer the club. He is that. He has sorted the defence, kept the goalkeeper, strengthened the midfield. All these were necessary.
MC: It’s his so-called philosophy. Maybe he thinks that’s the best for the players he has. The whole thing is based on possession, but what is the point of dominating possession when you don’t get a shot on target?
Andy Mitten, editor of United We Stand fanzine:
There’s been a slow build-up of complaint. What happened with David Moyes was it built over four months, little incremental drops in support that hinged on results.
I’m seeing the same thing with LVG. The defeat in Wolfsburg was a blow. The hard core fans are completely underwhelmed by the football they’re seeing. They spend a fortune following United home and away and they have a right to point out they find the style of play dull.
Andy Goldstein, Talksport radio presenter:
I was very quick to stand up and say it wasn’t working with Moyes, but I’m not feeling the same with LVG. I find it very difficult to doubt someone who has won so much. You don’t win the Champions League and the leagues in Spain, Germany and Holland by chance.
MC: If you talk to other fans individually, everyone is in despair. Collectively they have been remarkably patient. The only a bit of booing was at end of the West Ham game. There’s an understanding you don’t attack publicly. But behind the scenes it’s like living in an occupied country, you’re just living for the day he leaves.
What do the players think of LVG?
AM: You only find out when they’re out of contract. Nothing from Angel Di Maria, Robin Van Persie or Falcao was complimentary. But others who’ve worked with him in the past - Xavi, Philippe Cocu – speak incredibly well of him.
BC: His way seems to have drained the better players rather than allowed them the freedom to show they are better players. One of our contributors calls him The Vulcan. United post Fergie seems rather illogical. We secure our weaknesses rather than play to our strengths.
AG: I’ve heard that a lot goes on behind the scenes, that there’s some grumbling from players about some of his methods – making them train at 8pm ahead of a European game, that sort of thing. But you know what, that is precisely the sort of stuff which, in retrospect, if they win the league will be regarded as a sign of genius.
SB: There’s rumblings the players are unhappy, and it’s not going to get easier. Now he’s going to have to deal with the whole Thursday/Sunday timetable, which nobody thrives on. You used to get the impression in the Fergie era that the players would run through brick walls for the manager. You don’t get that now.
What does Van Gaal need to do to win the fans back?
MC: He needs to play attacking, fast, adventurous, risky football. He needs to return United to an entertaining side that show a sense they are enjoying themselves. United of all clubs have to entertain. That is more important than a trophy this season.
AM: I think he’s got to win the Premier League. We’ve got some benign fixtures coming up, he’ll probably draw them all 0-0 and because City keep dropping points, he’ll probably move up to first. The truth is, LVG would win the league every season if it was still two points for a win.
BC: We should have qualified easily from that Champions League group. He needs a good Christmas to quell a growing discontent. Many supporters seem to have fallen out of love with him. If love was ever the right word. It isn’t very romantic full stop.
AG: The fact is we’re not losing in the Premier League. And he has put us in the right place to make a serious stab at the title. I think the way they played at Wolfsburg, which was quite ballsy, showed he can change and go on the attack.
Should Van Gaal go to the transfer market?
AM: You’re not going to get anybody in January. Ed Woodward, the man in charge of buying, wants eventually to bring in a player capable of winning the ballon d’or. But if you’re that player why would you come to play in a team that is not attractive?
AG: I think he will spend in January and again in the summer. Rightly so. I’d be happy if he spent £800million, this is the richest club in the country, spend, spend, spend. Who would I like to see? The best. I’d love [Cristiano] Ronaldo, Neymar or [Gareth] Bale. With them in the team, we’d win everything including the Boat Race. But honestly, I don’t think it will happen. I think the players he has are good.
SB: When United won the treble in 1999 they had four class strikers, now you’d be pushed to argue they have any. We need forward reinforcement urgently.
MC: Part of me says of course he should, we’re severely lacking in defence and attack and I’d love to see John Stones here. On the other hand, his record in the market is so abysmal. I reckon only three out of his 13 buys have worked: [Ander] Herrera, [Luke] Shaw and [Antony] Martial. And two of them were going to come anyway under Moyes.
Is it time to fire Van Gaal?
AM: There’s a pride in the managerial longevity at this club. United fans don’t want to ape Real Madrid, sacking managers every three months at the first hint of a problem.
SB: From the board’s perspective, now is the last time you want to change manager. If you know you are going to make a change, you do it in the summer when the surge of optimism will be reflected in the boost to season ticket sales. Besides, from the Glazers point of view, things under LVG are very good. When Moyes was manager the share price dropped to $14. Now it’s $18.38. That’s a massive increase in the value of the club.
AG: Sure, given the choice of Pep Guardiola, Carlo Ancelotti and LVG when we were looking for a manager he’d have been lucky to be in my top three, but now we have him I think we should stick with him.
If he did go, who would the fans want as manager instead?
SB: If you look at polls, they are saying 80 per cent want LVG out, and I reckon half of those would want Guardiola, a third Ancelotti and a sixth [Ryan] Giggs. I think the Guardiola situation is a really interesting one for the Glazers. Here is the best coach in the world, available in the summer, what would it say about their ambition if they let him go to City?
AG: I’m pretty confident it will come good. I think there will be an awful lot of people who will find themselves owing him an apology in a couple of years. Here’s a choice for those wanting him out. Which would you prefer: losing every game in a glorious 4-3 gung-ho or winning the title next May by winning every game 1-0? If he did that, by June you’d have forgotten how it was done and just be celebrating the 21st.
MC: Guardiola has intimated he would like to come to United, but the Glazers are planning to extend LVG’s contract. That tells you all you need to know. But there is a ray of hope here. He has said he will go when he loses the trust of the players. Come on lads, do your duty.