'Dull Manchester United make me change the channel' - Former Old Trafford star slams Van Gaal's style of play
Former Man United winger Lee Sharpe discusses team under LVG, Gary Neville managing Valencia, 'bad boy' Jack Grealish and Wayne Rooney's form
Van Gaal has been at United for nearly 18 months now. Have you seen enough to suggest he's the man to take them back to the top?
They’re near the top and he’s not doing a bad job, it’s just a shame that the play is so dull. They’re still getting results and challenging for the title which is what he wants after finishing top four last season but for me he’s not giving the players a lot of freedom.
Is it hard for you to watch United at the moment, having played in such an exciting, attacking team there?
I generally watch what I think will be entertaining games with two attack-minded passing teams. Obviously United used to come under that. There were always goals and chances. I now find myself flicking the telly over and doing something else for 10 minutes.
When you're playing, do you realise that the style you're employing is boring to watch? Do players care about that, or is it always just about the result?
Absolutely they care. I came from a United team that was pretty expressive with a lot of pace and interchange of positions. I went to Leeds and the first thing George Graham said was ‘We have to avoid relegation’. So we became very defensive and as an attack-minded player it’s very frustrating to know you don’t have the freedom to express yourself. It does deter your own game.
Are you, like Paul Scholes, concerned by Memphis Depay's body language?
I don’t think it’s just Depay’s body language. A few of the lads look frustrated. One thing that Alex Ferguson used to say that sticks in my mind is ‘You have to take risks to win football matches’. As long as those risks are taken in the last third and that’s why you have quick-minded players in those positions to create space. At the moment everything is too static.
Has Depay impressed you yet? Do you think he's got what it takes to succeed in the Premier League?
He came in on fire, full of energy and enthusiasm. It seems to have dwindled a bit and I’m not sure if that’s down to the manager because with Martial we witnessed the same. There’s been a few players who have done good little bits but then been left out of the team. They have to start passing sideways and backwards rather than taking risks. He does look a bit fed up but then again a few others are as well.
Where do United need to strengthen in January and who should they be signing?
I’m not very clued up on world football but I’d still like them to sign a centre-back and an out-and-out goalscorer. Even if they get one though they still have to create chances for them. Wayne Rooney could be a great goalscorer if you create enough chances but at the moment they’re not.
Does Adnan Januzaj have a future at Old Trafford? Was Van Gaal right to send him on loan?
I was surprised they let him go this year and then brought in Martial who is a 19 year old. They should have give him another go but if you want to play a number ten they’ve got people like Mata, Rooney and Herrera who can all play there.
The year away won’t do him any harm. It will give him plenty of confidence and he can return a better, stronger player.
Are you excited by Anthony Martial? Do you think he'll prove value for money?
If he’s there long enough and the manager takes the shackles off him he’ll do alright. You can see glimpses of brilliance. He’s powerful and quick and cool under pressure. All the signs are there that he has the potential to be a great.
Do you think any team now can achieve success with that sort of swashbuckling, carefree style which Alex Ferguson used at United?
Course I do. We were only free-spirited and swashbuckling going forward because we were very disciplined and organised. The wingers doubled up with full-backs to defend.
The midfielders protected the back four and one of the forwards would drop into midfield. So defensively we were always very sound. That then allowed us to be more swashbuckling going forward.
Which wingers have impressed you most at other clubs this season?
I think the two at Crystal Palace have been a bit special, Bolasie and Zaha. Deulofeu looks a pretty good player. There aren’t many wingers about these days. No-one takes on a full-back and crosses the ball.
How can Wayne Rooney snap out of his current form? Do you think he's finished at United after this season?
I feel for Wayne because he’s had such a great career at United and been such a talisman for everyone. He’s led by example. He just doesn’t seem to be getting the basics right at the moment. It’s the simple stuff like his first touch and ten yard passing – things he has based his career on.
That can only be frustration and interest. He’s not getting involved as much with all the passing going on around him. He needs to get into games more but the way the team is playing that’s difficult for him.
It’s widely believed that Ryan Giggs is being groomed to become Louis Van Gaal’s successor. Do you think he has all the qualities needed to become a successful Manchester United manager?
He has the experience of the club behind him. He understands what the club is about and the expectation to win every game. He knows how to look after people. He knows how he wants them to play football.
I think he would be a fair manager and realise you don’t play well every time. I think he’ll be ideal as long as he had a good back-room staff behind him.
What do you make of Gary Neville’s appointment at Valencia today? Do you think he also has one eye on the Old Trafford job?
I wouldn’t be surprised if Gary Neville comes back at some point and helps Giggsy out. That would be a good partnership.
I was surprised that Gary took the job considering his Sky job but he obviously wants to get back into it. It’s a tough place and I can’t see him being fluent but he’ll do great. His knowledge of football is second to none.
You once said you were ‘punished for wanting to be a 19 year old’ and – on the surface at least – there does seem to be parallels between yourself and Jack Grealish at this moment in time. From your own experiences, what advice would you have for him?
Don’t get caught going out. The game is different now because everyone has mobile phones and there’s social networking. You can’t step out in public without someone telling someone. Chinese whispers are a lot quicker these days.
Don’t go out and be stupid when you’ve got beat. Go low-key and ensure you have a close knit of friends around you.
Lee Sharpe was speaking to 888.com