Paul Ince: Man United are never going to get back to the attacking force they once were
It has been a turbulent season for Manchester United, with Louis van Gaal's job lurching from secure to perilous depending on the previous weekend's performance.
And the Dutchman doesn't just come under pressure when the team lose a game. There have been a few famous instances at Old Trafford this season where the crowd have screamed 'attack, attack' in the face of a tepid offensive performance, even when United were drawing or leading.
This sense of entitlement comes from over 25 years of watching Alex Ferguson mastermind trophy after trophy on the back of displays brimming with masterful attacking football and excitement.
Former United players turned pundits like Paul Scholes and Roy Keane have regularly blasted the current manager and players for the lack of zest in their displays.
Paul Ince, who enforced the Old Trafford midfield with Keane for two years, doesn't subscribe to the view that the current team must return to the old 'Manchester United way'. For Ince, that footballing idea is dead.
"Scholesy and Keaney are good friends of mine and they were great footballers but the modern day game is not like it was back when we were playing," Ince said in an exclusive interview with the Independent.ie.
"When we played, it was 4-4-2 or 4-4-1-1. Everyone played with wingers and it was man vs man. Nowadays teams don't play with wingers and you have 4-3-3 formations or 4-2-3-1. There are so many different formations that teams play now that the wingers are not actually wingers, they are more like inside forwards.
"So to play the Manchester United way, going from the 70's to the 80's to the 90's, I don't think that's viable now. I don't think you are allowed to do that because you don't play with wingers. There are very few wingers who actually want to beat players."
That will be a heartbreaking assessment for fans of the team, who still hold out hope that the attacking magic is merely dormant rather than extinct. More and more it appears that a lot of the side's spirit under Ferguson came from the man himself, and when he retired that style went with him.
Ince remembers the psychological advantage his team had during the era where they dominated English football.
"The Man United way is about attacking," he said.
"It is about creating chances, scoring goals. It is about having that presence. When we played. we could beat most teams by just lining up in the tunnel. The opposing team would look at you and go 'ooh I don't fancy it today'. We would win most games just because we were Manchester United. Now teams think they can go to Old Trafford and pick up something. That should never be the case."
"They [Man United] are never going to get back to where they were because the game has changed and formations have changed," he continued.
A key question for the club going forward is whether they should stick with Louis van Gaal or make a change. The obvious replacement is Jose Mourinho, who has won league titles in four different countries.
However, despite having a presence to rival Ferguson, his style would take the club even further away from their traditional values.
"Mourinho's teams don't set up the way Manchester United fans want their teams to play," Ince said.
"He likes his team to defend as a team. When you had [Ryan] Giggs and [Andrei] Kanchelskis, they never used to come back and defend. That was down to me or Keaney or Brian Robson. Jose likes all his players to come back and defend and I'm not sure that is the Man United way."
Former Liverpool and Manchester United midfielder Paul Ince was speaking ahead of tonight’s historic Europa League clash between the two sides at Anfield. Coverage is exclusively live on Setanta Sports from 5.30pm. The Europa League clash between Dortmund and Spurs this evening is also exclusively live on Setanta Sports. To subscribe, visit www.setanta.com
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