Louis van Gaal should embrace Roy Keane's advice and not treat it like enemy fire
Some good news for Louis van Gaal. Roy Keane is not on duty for ITV tonight, so the Manchester United manager can rest easy in the knowledge that the caustic Irishman will not be joining the chorus of former players by dismantling the Dutchman’s tactics following the Champions League clash against CSKA Moscow.
The former United captain is expected to be in the studio to pore over the group stage highlights on Wednesday evening, though, so if Van Gaal’s team falters again at Old Trafford this evening, there may yet be a delayed reaction from Keane, the man who has never been shy when it comes to identifying the failings of his old club.
Whether the opinions of Keane, Paul Scholes, Gary Neville or the many other ex-United players now airing their views on Van Gaal and United actually matter to the former Ajax, Barcelona and Bayern Munich coach is debatable, but one thing is certain: their views resonate with the club’s supporters and it is Keane who has been hitting the target the longest.
It is 10 years this week since the MUTV episode of ‘Roy Keane Plays the Pundit’ ultimately resulted in Keane being sacked by United, despite the programme never being aired by the channel.
Keane was too critical of his team-mates and had crossed the line with his brutal assessment of a 4-1 Premier League defeat at Middlesbrough, which left United languishing in seventh position, 13 points adrift of runaway leaders Chelsea.
To many, Keane was simply airing the views of the supporters. Coming from the club captain, however, the words were much more incendiary than any boo or jeer from the stands.
It is similar with Scholes’s comments that he would ‘not enjoy’ playing in Van Gaal’s United team -- they strike a chord because the majority of the club’s supporters are not enjoying watching, either
To suggest Van Gaal is approaching a crossroads at United because outspoken former players are regularly criticising his ‘philosophy’ would be wrong, yet there is an increasing sense that the 64-year-old would do well to listen to some of them.
Keane, Scholes, Neville, and even Andrei Kanchelskis, who has this week accused Van Gaal of turning his players into ‘robots,’ all ‘get’ United and what is expected of the team.
Van Gaal does not, David Moyes didn’t either, and the danger for the current United manager is that he risks losing the goodwill of the club’s fans by failing to embrace a more cavalier approach.
Three successive goalless draws, a goal drought currently standing at 325 minutes, and the endless sideways passing - one fan recently quipped that United games have become like watching an airport baggage carousel go round and round for 90 minutes - have prompted the club’s supporters to go vocal in their desire for more attacking football.
In response, Van Gaal hits back like an automaton reading from a coaching manual, speaking of his philosophy and how tactics and personnel are ‘dependable on the opposition.’
In short, Van Gaal plans for games on the basis of what United are facing, rather than simply challenging superior players to beat lesser opponents with pace, power and flair.
Barcelona, Bayern Munich and Real Madrid go out to beat teams without worrying about their opponents but United, under Van Gaal, have gone the other way.
Tactically, Van Gaal treats a game against Middlesbrough in the Capital One Cup the same as he would a Champions League clash against Bayern - identify the strengths of the opposition and devise a plan to counter them.
But the risk he faces is that he is placing too much importance on the tactical approach in a league which continues to be dominated by teams who go for the throat rather than spend half an hour thinking about it.
The words from Scholes, Neville, Kanchelskis and others should be regarded as gentle nudges in the right direction by Van Gaal, but each is viewed instead as enemy fire.