Wednesday 21 August 2019

Jurgen Klopp has achieved more in 18 days than Van Gaal has managed in 18 months

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp
Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp

Kevin Garside

If football were simply a matter of calculation, success measured on a balance sheet, things would be looking decidedly rosy for Louis van Gaal.

His Manchester United team sit second in their Champions League qualifying group and tomorrow could assume top spot in the Premier League with victory at Leicester.

But football is not played on paper, it is not simply a matter of how the numbers stack up. It is a game of emotion, an activity that stirs the heart and one that binds millions across the globe in a common interest.

Read more here:

This is where Van Gaal has a problem. Many among the Manchester United diaspora are not happy. They don't like the vision he is selling.

Is he listening? Does he have it in him to meet their concerns, to turn it around, to return Manchester United to Manchester United?

Here we acknowledge the good, highlight the bad, ponder the ugly and distil United's predicament into five key areas.

1 Criticism by former players

This is relentless, and augments the swell of negativity around Van Gaal. Roy Keane and Paul Scholes lead weekly assaults on tactics and players.

Captain Wayne Rooney has been in the dock all season for his sluggish, largely goalless displays. Keane asks what Rooney is doing slapping WWF wrestlers when all his efforts should be directed at putting the ball in the net. He's awful, says Keane, and needs to look at himself.

Rooney is a shadow of the bull-like man-boy who struck fear into defences in his youth.

Wayne Rooney

He signed for United at 18, scored a hat-trick on his Champions League debut. Today he is slow and weight-bearing by comparison and never looked like scoring against PSV.

It is not all on Rooney, of course, but the grandeur of his past makes him United's global beacon and a focal point for the present ills.

Scholes shreds Anthony Martial for his attitude, and thanks the fates that he never had to play in a team managed by Van Gaal.

"Boring" is how Scholes summed up Wednesday's display. Worse still, he had PSV the fitter and better side in the last 30 minutes, United fatigued in mind as well as body.

2 The defence

The one area of real progress for Van Gaal, who can point to the defensive organisation of a team that has the best record in the Premier League.

Not only that, in Chris Smalling he has a genuine success story.

Van Gaal can take credit for transforming the player from an upright lump of wood, a ragged stopper, to a defender who looks to bring the ball out of defence and initiate.

Chris Smalling is the only Manchester United player to have started every game this season

Given the stale forward thrust, that might seem a contradiction, but it is not Smalling's fault that the movement ahead is not what it should be.

Alex Ferguson never utilised a centre-back in this manner. He liked his defenders to keep the door shut and leave the opening of doors to those further up the pitch.

United's defensive strength is also their problem, in that Van Gaal likes to screen his back four with two defensive midfielders, choosing from Bastian Schweinsteiger, Morgan Schneiderlin and Michael Carrick. Ander Herrera has been the biggest victim of this strategy.

3 Legacy

Yesterday marked the 23th anniversary of the morning Eric Cantona was unveiled at Old Trafford. The day before that was the 10th anniversary of the death of George Best.

It is hard to think of two players who, in their creative approach, attitude, style and execution, better embodied the attacking ideal nurtured by Matt Busby.

Best was gone at 27, already a victim of the booze. Cantona thumped people in the stands and spoke in riddles, but those two will be remembered as long as United pin team sheets to a board.

Busby created a thrilling template that won admirers around the world.

No more heroes: Cantona

The pioneering sorties into Europe in the '50s, the Munich tragedy, the loss of the Babes and the team's resurrection through the feet of Denis Law, Bobby Charlton and Best set United alongside Real Madrid as a global brand of impossible romance.

Ferguson carried on that tradition, embellished it even, before bequeathing it first to David Moyes and now to Van Gaal.

The Dutchman is not simply responsible for results but for the method of delivery. The supporters are not interested in the victory alone, but in the manner it is achieved.

They can keep up with the scores on the internet. It is excitement, passion, entertainment, derring-do that define United. Without those qualities they are just another team in red shirts slugging it out.

4 Attack

Or as United fans like to put it, attack, attack, attack. Boos rang out around Old Trafford on Wednesday, frustration at the team's failure to overcome a modest Dutch team.

This is arguably the lowest point in the Dutch domestic game in 50 years, and PSV are a fair expression of the loveless product, yet they had little trouble squeezing the life out of United and might have won in the closing stages when red heads had gone.

Van Gaal said he needed time. Well, he's had 18 months and, defence apart, has made little impression on the pitch.

The transformation at Leicester and at Liverpool under Jürgen Klopp shows what can be done when an inspirational figure gets to work with a group of players who had been failing.

This is to do with man-management as much as technique. Klopp has an embrace for everyone, including the fans by the looks of it.

The players feel involved even if they are on the bench and they run twice as far, and fast, as they did for Brendan Rodgers.

P66 Man Utd 2.jpg
Manchester United's Michael Carrick (left) looks for the pass during the Champions League match against CSKA Moscow at Old Trafford

Van Gaal offers cool detachment, loads of player meetings and a big, black book full of notes written in a language few understand. No wonder Rooney and Carrick complained of the flat environment in training.

Klopp reminds us that football is essentially fun. He's achieved more in 18 days than Van Gaal in 18 months.

5 Ryan Giggs

Van Gaal has 18 months left on his contract, if he survives that long. Take Pep Guardiola out of the equation and assistant coach Giggs is seen as the next man in. Yet you wonder how much his stock is falling by association.

He remains close to many of United's biggest critics - he is in business with one, Gary Neville.

Louis van Gaal and Ryan Giggs look on in frustration against PSV Eindhoven

Given the like minds they demonstrated as players, it would be a surprise were Giggs to be in disagreement now, which makes you wonder about his role in producing the featureless pap Van Gaal's team churns out.

The longer he stays at Van Gaal's side the more he becomes tainted. He might be better deployed putting the boots back on and having a go himself. At least he would be dying by his own sword.

Of the people in the inner sanctum, none knows better than Giggs what Manchester United represents. It would be nice to hear his voice on all of the above - assuming he is allowed one.

Independent News Service

The Left Wing: The 'hell' of World Cup training camp, Ireland's half-back dilemma and All Blacks uncertainty

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport