Saturday 18 November 2017

Gary Neville: Van Gaal has fallen out with too many players - the alarm bells are ringing

There seems to be an element of the Iron Fist with Van Gaal
There seems to be an element of the Iron Fist with Van Gaal

Gary Neville

I have always maintained that Manchester United should give their managers a minimum of two to two-and-a-half years, however messy things get.

My support for Louis van Gaal is unchanged but there are red flags on some of the things we've seen at the club.

At the time he started to come under serious pressure I stuck by David Moyes, even though you could see all was not rosy.

It's quite clear that all is not rosy now, either, with the player tensions and the sometimes stagnant football, but I still believe United should stand by Van Gaal through this season and the start of next.

He is at the point, though, where he has to start delivering the performances that go with the fantastic amount of money he has been given and the incredible support from the fans.

David de Gea signing a new contract was a welcome boost before this weekend's massive game against Liverpool.

Read more: Louis Van Gaal: 'I'm not a dictator'

To call the fixture a crossroads moment for Van Gaal would be an exaggeration. At the same time, I think these United players have to take to the Old Trafford pitch with a feeling of freedom.

They must think: "We're playing against Liverpool at home, we're better than them at this point, let's dominate this football match and play at the high tempo a Manchester United side can play at."

I'm torn. Part of me doesn't like what I see but I also accept we're still in a post-Alex Ferguson scenario.

Carousel

It was a bit like this at United during my childhood. The lack of order, the carousel. Maybe what I remember from my boyhood years is actually the norm and what we had under Sir Alex was freakish.

Perhaps we are judging Van Gaal, like David Moyes before him, according to the golden era that went before.

Nevertheless Van Gaal is fortunate to be at a club with United's traditions. If he were playing the football he's playing and getting the results he's getting, having spent the money he's spent, at Bayern Munich or Barcelona, he would be in significant trouble. United take a longer-term view.

Read more: Louis van Gaal: Manchester United players trust me... we have a superb relationship

But I still return to my belief that there has to be a better way. United are certainly starting to do things that we scoffed at in the Ferguson era when other clubs behaved that way.

That's where my conflict is. I have real concerns that Van Gaal has fallen out with numerous players over the last year. Some of those players he actually brought in himself. Angel di Maria and Victor Valdes would be examples.

There seems to be an element of the iron fist with Van Gaal. For 25 years people talked of Sir Alex's 'hairdryer' but Sir Alex had compassion, while Van Gaal tends to be colder in his dealings with players.

It hardly bodes well when players are brought through the door by a manager who then discards or marginalises them.

Di Maria, Valdes, Falcao, Rojo - and there are others who were already there, like Van Persie. That's too many players to get on the wrong side of. These are not bad lads.

So I'm slightly concerned that there is this iron fist being applied to players who I look at from personal experience and think: they're quite good people. I know some of those lads, and they are really good professionals.

I am still saddened that Danny Welbeck left. I am saddened that Adnan Januzaj has been allowed to leave on loan to Borussia Dortmund.

It was an early red flag to me when Welbeck was sold for £16m, as I said at the time. Januzaj went from playing four or five games on the bounce to going out on loan in Europe.

Read more: John Giles: Why Rooney doesn't come near Bobby Charlton or Robbie Keane

The transfer activity concerns me most. That carousel approach.

If you had said to me at the end of last season that United would have a net spend of £30-40m - that they would sign Schweinsteiger, Schneiderlin, Depay and Darmian - I would have been pleased to see signings who were either young and full of potential or highly experienced, in the case of Schweinsteiger, who brings control in central midfield and support for Michael Carrick.

I would have called that a really good transfer window for United in terms of moving up from fourth to second or third in the Premier League.

If you then said De Gea would be left out, Falcao and Van Persie would leave, Di Maria and Rafael would leave, I would have taken a breath and felt less sure. It is as if defeat has been grabbed from the jaws of victory.

The nonsense around Neymar, Sergio Ramos, Gareth Bale and Thomas Muller has pushed people over the edge into thinking: there is a lack of decorum here. United have always been proud of their conduct in the transfer market, but that polished feeling has gone.

Read more: United/Liverpool Dream Team - Only four Reds and no place for Wayne Rooney

The fans and the media have given Van Gaal a comfortable ride over the last 18 months. They have accepted it's a difficult situation, at a club that needs to be turned around in the post-Ferguson era.

But Van Gaal can't keep being abrupt with every journalist and broadcaster in press conferences, or telling them they know nothing, because ultimately he is talking to the fans, and the fans think a lot of the same things.

The fans are also asking: why did we leave De Gea out, why are we letting people go when we have no replacement?

Why are we jumping on the last day of the transfer window for Anthony Martial, who cost £36m with potentially £22m in add-ons? Van Gaal is highly methodical with his teams, but when it comes to his transfer activity it seems disorganised at best.

When he says to a journalist, "You think you're smarter than me?", nobody is suggesting they have more football knowledge than him. But they are more than entitled to ask the questions that are being asked. The business Ed Woodward did in the summer around Schweinsteiger, Schneiderlin, Darmian and Depay was very good.

But then the summer descended into what seemed like desperation again around Ramos and Muller and Neymar and Bale.

Read more: 'I simply can't understand what Wayne Rooney says' - Louis van Gaal

While my thoughts have always been that the head coach should always have the last say on transfers, it would seem to me to be a case where Woodward needs to put a bridge between himself and the coach to bring greater order to transfers.

Watching the Swansea game nearly a fortnight ago I noted two aspects. I saw the best-structured defensive unit in the league.

That's not to say they are the best defence. They are the best-organised defensive structure. Their body movements, their body shapes, the distances between the defenders, the way they shift up the pitch, is fantastic. The coach deserves great credit for that.

Punishment

However, when I see them on the ball I see players in fear of capital punishment if they give it away through any element of risk or expression in the final third. They look like they will suffer if they make an error.

That is a concern when you have so many expressive players out on the pitch.

Schweinsteiger, Rooney, Mata, Herrera, Depay. I would expect them to be really bold.

One thread that's always run through United, right back to the 1950s, is boldness.

Which is not to say they have always played brilliantly or always won. Generally, though, the club has always been bold in its style of football, with style, flair, self-expression, risk. In the fan culture you see a yearning for those qualities.

We knew the style would be adapted by Van Gaal and that we would see a more patient approach. We knew the system was going to change from 4-4-1-1 to 4-3-3.

But we also expected flair and imagination. At the moment it lacks both.

You see the ball being played into the front three and then immediately recycled backwards, even if they have space to turn or play a pass in behind.

The first thought seems to be: I'm going to be shouted at if I do something wrong here. Yet Mata and Rooney are the type of players who always look to take the risk; to change the game with their next movement.

For some reason that seems to have been taken out.

People might think I have an inside line. I don't. I'm looking from the outside.

The one thing you can be sure of as a Manchester United fan is that Van Gaal is sure of himself. That helps. The club should continue to get behind him.

But it's getting more difficult to ignore those flashing red lights. (Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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