Van Gaal’s Anti-Football Costing United Points
Louis van Gaal’s banal philosophy continued to disappoint on Sunday as a lacklustre United played out a dull 0-0 derby in Manchester.
A decent result for some, but United had no better chance to put their City rivals to the sword given the names absent from Manuel Pellegrini’s team sheet. The goalscoring prowess of Sergio Aguero was missed by City but even more so was the guile and ingenuity of playmaker David Silva.
The remaining cast provided little threat to David de Gea and it’s not often you get a chance to play City without their two key men. It was a chance that presented itself to United on Sunday and a chance that would’ve been swallowed up under previous regimes.
Instead we witnessed the same methodical approach that has become the hallmark of Louis van Gaal’s United, the sort of ‘crab football’ the likes of Neil Webb thrived on in Fergie’s early years. Possession football was the order of the day and it took United nearly 50 minutes to even register a shot on goal.
The fact that Van Gaal couldn’t find a way to inflict a harmful defeat on City is a damning indictment of the philosophy he preaches so much about.
Not only that, it’s not the ‘United way’ their fans talk about. On the one hand they chant “Attack, Attack, Attack!” On the other they sing about a manager who seems determined to stifle it.
It’s time to start asking if his philosophy suits the English game at all. It is undoubtedly based around possession, but any sort of risk and individual flair seems to be banned.
Earlier this year when Van Gaal ordered his players ‘not to take any risks’ during an F.A Cup tie against Cambridge, Paul Scholes was left shaking his head:
“When I think about Man Utd midfield players and forward players, it’s all about taking risks. You have to have the balls to take risks, to take chances, to create goals.”
The sort of play Scholes craves is now outlawed at Old Trafford. And maybe that contributes to the form of Wayne Rooney, who is now in the third year of a short blip.
It looked certain he was on his way out from United after being side-lined by Ferguson for a crucial Champions League tie against Real Madrid. But it was Fergie who left and Rooney’s inevitable exit was shelved.
Rooney At 30
In Ferguson’s book that shortly followed, he claimed that Rooney was “capable of making extraordinary contributions…but as time wore on, I felt he struggled more and more to do it for 90 minutes, and he seemed to tire in games.”
Those games were 3 years ago when Rooney was 27 and the words are from the best judge of a player the game has ever seen. So as Rooney’s recovers from his 30th birthday party on Sunday night, how can we expect him to be in better shape than he was years ago under Ferguson? His manager however continues to afford him the luxury of being undroppable.
Anthony Martial, one ray of light amidst the gloomy tactics, has been banished to the left wing to accommodate the fading England captain, and so Old Trafford is now like Animal Farm, where all animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others. All 11 players being equal should be central to any philosophy, but not Van Gaal’s.
Waiting quietly and patiently in the wings is Gary Neville, with his highly impressive performances on Monday Night Football. His analysis is fascinating and he clearly has an astute reading of the game. The sooner he gets back in the game the better, and it’s the role as assistant to manager Giggs he must have his eye on.
But the big Dutchman is going nowhere for now and neither is the anti-football he’s overseeing as he continues to scrape acceptable results from poor performances.
As the dust settles on one of the more forgettable of the 170 Manchester derbies, it’s Louis Van Gaal who is now the Wayne Rooney of football management; the man living off his glittering past that the journalists are too reluctant touch.