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John Giles: Long ball Louis gives us a reason to doubt


Alex Ferguson and Louis van Gaal

Alex Ferguson and Louis van Gaal

Alex Ferguson and Louis van Gaal

I'm confused by Louis van Gaal. He has a great record and reputation but it is difficult to get at the substance of the man.

Yesterday, he took out some A4 pages to counter Sam Allardyce's assertion that Manchester United are now a long ball team.

I really don't know why he bothered. His instincts should tell him that Allardyce has nothing to say he need listen to so maybe he's feeling pressure.

With the very best managers, it is usually easy to see into their minds by looking at the way their teams play. Based on Manchester United's current form, a judgement like that would be very unflattering to the Dutchman.

Great managers show all the qualities you need to get the top in any human endeavour. Courage, hunger, adaptability, stubbornness, intelligence and the ability to lead will go far in any environment.

In van Gaal's case, he is unfortunate that he is now being directly compared, as every Manchester United manager will be for the rest of time, with Alex Ferguson

But van Gaal clearly believes that he is a great manager so Ferguson is as good a place to start as any and the current debate about Manchester United's use of the long ball provides a handy context.

Ferguson produced three different teams over three decades at Old Trafford and lived through a revolution in the game in terms of the shift in the balance of power to players caused by the Bosman ruling.

We watched every moment of his career unfold in front of our eyes and over time, the one component of his teams which was impossible to miss was the remarkable self-belief which allowed them to keep playing, keep trusting their own talent right up to the moment when most other teams had thrown in the towel.

That trait came directly from Ferguson and required enormous courage to maintain over such a long period of time. He gave courage to his players and brought out their best instincts. The 1999 Champions League win was a direct consequence of this.

Right now, van Gaal is being criticised because he is resorting to long balls and selling it as another example of the never-say-die attitude which was Ferguson's trademark.

My thoughts on this are coloured by a strong memory of van Gaal on the touchline at Lansdowne Road with ten Irishmen on the pitch in front of him and some of the best striking talent in Europe running into each other trying to score a goal.

For me, that was as good an example of a manager losing it under pressure as you will ever find. His natural instinct was based on ego and arrogance and he threw on striker after striker until there was hardly room to breathe in the Ireland penalty area.

It was raw panic on van Gaal's part and that's why I look at the long ball bombardment which is now a feature of the way Manchester United play and wonder whether it indicates a similar state of mind.

A great manager like Ferguson kept his head and his players kept playing. Very often, the long ball is a symptom of desperation.

There is definitely a gap in knowledge which needs to be filled. It could simply be down to the fact that our view of van Gaal is formed by events which happened at a distance and only in the last nine months have we been given a more complete view of him in action.

His reputation is based on huge success he enjoyed at Ajax as a very coach in the early 90s, a brief spell at Barcelona which produced two La Liga titles but ended badly and a run to the Champions League final with Bayern Munich in 2010 based on young German players he promoted and have since gone on to become world champions.

Since June when he was announced as the next Manchester United coach, all eyes have been on him and in that time I've see things I like about him and some things which would worry me.

Up until yesterday when he took out diagrams to prove he wasn't playing the long ball, I liked his willingness to talk in straight lines and his contempt for waffle.

I like the fact that he let Robin van Persie know in clear terms that he was disappointed with him in the World Cup and that there would be no cosy relationship.

I like the fact that he knows his own mind and seems to have won the battle for control of team affairs at Old Trafford.


But what all of this boils down to his is what he does with his players and my main problem with him begins and ends on the pitch.

I'm a full-back man and I watched with surprise while van Gaal tried to turn Ashley Young and Valencia into wing backs when they are instinctive wingers who don't know how to defend.

I don't like a three-man defence and I don't like the fact that he plays people out of position. But van Gaal is a pragmatic man and by hook or by crook, he finds himself well in the running for a Champions League place.

Success in that ambition will trigger more spending in the summer and until I see the team he reaches the starting line with in August and how they play, I won't be making a judgement about him.