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van has to be united's driver

THERE is an indication emerging from Old Trafford and it is a disturbing one. The control Alex Ferguson fought for, won and gripped with an iron fist does not appear to be fully available yet to Louis van Gaal.

Last night, he signed Argentinian defender Marcos Rojo but he needs more players than that. If he wants to get the right ones, he must exert his authority quickly.

It's abundantly clear that David Moyes' chances of making a success of what was an almost impossible job were fatally undermined by the fact that Manchester United failed to sign any of the targets which he identified before flying away on tour following a rushed takeover after he was announced as the new manager.

Unfolding in front of us is a similar story in many ways. Van Gaal raced back from the World Cup to catch another flight to America with Manchester United and he must have left a list behind with his employers identifying the players he wanted to buy.


Van Gaal got a good look at the cream of world football at first hand in Brazil and knew for some time before the World Cup even started that he would take over from Moyes.

He obviously had a plan in mind for how he wanted Manchester United to play and like any good manager, must have picked players to fit gaps he felt needed to be plugged.

As I said above, the problem, as I see it, predates the Dutchman and goes back to fact that David Gill walked out the door at the same time as Ferguson and the network they had built up seems to have gone with them.

I watched Cesc Fabregas put in a great shift for Jose Mourinho in an impressive season opener for Chelsea at Turf Moor and it struck me that the former Arsenal man has been linked with Old Trafford almost from the moment he left to go to Barcelona.

Ferguson tried to sign him and he was certainly on Moyes' list of targets. I'd be a bit suspicious of 
Van Gaal because of the way he chose to deploy Wesley Sneijder in the World Cup but I feel certain he would have snapped an agent's hand off if he had been offered Fabregas.

Yet there he was in Chelsea blue and Mourinho smiling like a man who had just won a big bet.

The common denominator in all of this is CEO Ed Woodward who, presumably, is the man charged with working through the list he gets from the manager and making every effort possible to buy the players required.

I wouldn't be the only one to question his role in the Moyes saga and I wonder now wonder whether Luke Shaw was Van Gaal's choice? Or Ander Herrera? Would a man committed to a three-man defence spend £30m on a player he wouldn't know a great deal about? I suspect that both signings were given to the Dutchman as done deals.

It never ceases to amaze me. No matter how many times I see it, it's still remarkable to see how quickly a winning formula is binned because businessmen think they know best when it comes to football and footballers.


Manchester United had a better model than any other on the market for all of three decades and the evidence I'm seeing suggests it has been tossed aside. Van Gaal is no genius in terms of football management, I've already said that, and he now needs to show a bit of old fashioned bullishness in the boardroom - the signing of Rojo may be a sign of that.

The opening day embarrassment against Swansea was a big shock to his system, which was very obvious. But he must have known just how bad a set of options Moyes had to work with and it's worse now for him with even more departures.

With that in mind, it does seem baffling that he would bludgeon ahead with his wish to play wing backs with wingers who don't know how to defend.

There's nothing new about the system and I had to laugh at the way his tactical thinking was analysed in the media. It was as if he was trying to do something daring and novel.

It seems like a shortcut to failure for a manager to plough on, even when he knows that he doesn't have the personnel he needs to do it properly. That was a very poor Manchester United team, as poor as I've seen in many, many years and even a step down on last season.

In stark contrast, Chelsea looked bright and inventive and full of confidence. By far the best first day showing of any of the title chasers, Mourinho has the makings of a formidable team. I said before the season started that if Diego Costa does his stuff and Fabregas settles quickly, they would be title favourites. It's early to in the extreme, but I like the look of both of them.

Manchester City looked a bit lazy to me and perhaps it's no surprise. They certainly didn't raise a gallop in the Community Shield and lost to Arsenal and they took their time putting away a plucky Newcastle.


Manuel Pellegrini has an awful lot of players who were running around in the heat in Brazil well into July and given the fact that title winners must be even hungrier if they want to do it again, maybe he has a bit of work to do.

I was disappointed with both Liverpool and Arsenal but would qualify that by saying they both won against potential banana-skin teams. Like last season, the smaller clubs won't fold easily and complacency will be punished, a lesson Van Gaal is still digesting.

From what I saw on Saturday, Manchester United will be nowhere near the top of the table in nine months' time and if he doesn't find some players quickly, Van Gaal must at least take a grip of the process between now and his next opportunity in January. Getting the Argentinian to join him at Old Trafford may help with him implementing his system, but it can't be his only signing.