Thursday 22 March 2018

Louis van Gaal's top 10 most baffling decisions at Manchester United

Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal
Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal

Louis van Gaal has baffled Manchester United’s fans on many occasions during his 20 months at Manchester United to date. As he prepares for another huge week involving the Manchester derby with City and an FA Cup replay at West Ham, we look at the 10 most curious...

Selling Javier Hernandez

Javier Hernandez had a decent strike rate during his Manchester United career, with 59 goals in 157 matches, but he barely figured under Louis van Gaal, who first loaned him out to Real Madrid for a season, and then sold him to Bayer Leverkusen for £6million.

“Van Gaal didn’t seem to know how to get the best out of him or wasn’t prepared to adapt to the little man’s way of playing,” former United centre-back Rio Ferdinand said.

Javier Hernandez has rediscovered his best form after falling out of favour at Old Trafford

Loaning out James Wilson

As United were struggling for goals in the autumn, Van Gaal’s decision to loan out one of his promising young strikers raised a few eyebrows. James Wilson marked his first start for the club by scoring twice against Hull City in May 2014, and played 17 times for the club during Van Gaal’s first season in charge.

Yet he was loaned to Brighton in November, at a time when United’s only other available senior strikers were Wayne Rooney and Anthony Martial.

James Wilson will spend the rest of the season on loan at Brighton

Publicly shaming De Gea

David De Gea has been arguably United’s most consistent performer this season, yet looked certain to leave the club last summer as Real Madrid attempted to sign him. Van Gaal’s decision to drop the goalkeeper for the season’s opening league match against Tottenham was understandable; particularly given some erratic pre-season performances. More surprising was the decision to question De Gea’s focus so publicly. “It is not easy for De Gea to manage his situation now,” the manager said.

David de Gea became Manchester United's latest injury concern on Thursday

Allowing Carrick to run down his contract

Michael Carrick remains a key figure in a United midfield that has looked short on quality for a good few years, yet looks increasingly likely to leave at the end of the season.

The 34-year-old’s contract expires in June, and there appears to be little prospect of a new deal. Given that the midfielders Van Gaal has signed – Morgan Schneiderlin and Bastian Schweinsteiger – have yet to really settle, allowing Carrick to leave appears a questionable decision.

P68 Michael Carrick 1.jpg
Manchester United's Michael Carrick and Arsenal's Danny Welbeck during the clash at Old Trafford. Photo: Phil Noble/Reuters

Not signing any central defenders

United spent a significant chunk of last summer pursuing Real Madrid’s Sergio Ramos; but when the deal fell through, Van Gaal elected not to sign any other central defenders, and also allowed Jonny Evans to move to West Bromwich Albion.

The manager felt that, with Daley Blind remodelled as a left-sided centre-back, he had enough cover, but Phil Jones has been injured for much of the season and teenager Tim Fosu-Mensah was pressed into service against Watford recently.

Daley Blind believes Manchester United are improving and capable of ending 2015-16 on a high

Selling Danny Welbeck

Gary Neville called Van Gaal’s decision to sell Danny Welbeck to Arsenal for £16million in 2014 “strange”. The United manager’s assessment of the forward was brutal.

“He doesn’t have the record of [Robin] Van Persie or [Wayne] Rooney and that is the standard,” Van Gaal said. With a record of 29 goals in 142 appearances for United, Welbeck was certainly not the most prolific forward at the club. His strike rate has improved only marginally in north London, but he inevitably scored the winner for Arsenal when they knocked United out of the FA Cup in Van Gaal’s first season.

Danny Welbeck hits a shot under pressure from Javier Mascherano. Photo: Carl Recine/Action Images via Reuters

Signing Radamel Falcao

Radamel Falcao arrived at Old Trafford with a terrific reputation, having scored 70 goals in just 91 appearances over two seasons at Atletico Madrid, following a similarly prolific three-year spell at Porto.

A cruciate knee ligament injury suffered at Monaco, though, seemed to have cost the Colombia international some of his sharpness, and he never got going at United, scoring four times in 29 appearances. He has been even less successful at Chelsea, which suggests that his glory days may well be behind him.

New Chelsea loan signing Radamel Falcao spent last season on loan at Manchester United

Removing fitness coach Tony Strudwick

Van Gaal has spent much of his time at Old Trafford dealing with a lengthy injury list. In his first season, he faced intense criticism for removing fitness coach Tony Strudwick from first-team duties, with former assistant manager Mike Phelan among those to claim that the resulting change in training methods only lengthened the injury list.

Van Gaal said recently that he had modified his methods this season, and yet his squad had suffered even more injuries.

Walking out of a press conference

Van Gaal appeared to be on the verge of losing his job over Christmas. Senior figures at the club were questioning whether they should move straight away from Jose Mourinho as United floundered.

Between a demoralising home defeat by Norwich and a depressing display in losing at Stoke, Van Gaal gave a remarkable five-minute press conference in which he expressed his annoyance at the critical media coverage he had received, before finishing with the memorable sign off: "I wish you a merry Christmas and also maybe a happy new year when I see you. Enjoy the wine and a mince pie. Goodbye."

Bizarre Liverpool substitution

With United needing three second-half goals against Liverpool to remain in the Europa League on Thursday, Van Gaal responded not with attacking substitutions, but by changing his full-backs. Antonio Valencia and Matteo Darmian replaced Guillermo Varela and Marcos Rojo; the changes failed to make any dent on the scoreline, and hopes of progression disappeared.

That substitution joins the list of decisions that have left United supporters scratching their heads or tearing their hair out.

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