LONDON – Five years after Manchester United should have strengthened its squad and invested heavily in the transfer market, Louis van Gaal is doing what Sir Alex Ferguson did not do before retiring.
Ferguson led United to the Premier League title in 2013 before handing over the reins to David Moyes. While United was the champion, weaknesses in the side were obvious and it was only the sheer force of Ferguson’s personality and his experience that covered over the cracks in the squad. Despite the side’s success, Tom Cleverley, Jonny Evans, Rafael, Shinji Kagawa, Chris Smalling and Anderson never really looked the standard expected at Old Trafford while Rio Ferdinand, Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs were footballing pensioners.
My argument is weakened by the fact United was champion, but Ferguson should have moved most of those players out and replaced them with those who could take the club forward. He left his successor probably the worst title-winning team in Premier League history.
In Moyes’ short time in charge, United paid Everton £27.5 million for Marouane Fellaini, which smacked of panic buying. Last January, Juan Mata arrived from Chelsea in a £37.1 million deal and while the Spain international has scored seven goals in his last eight games for United, his future is threatened by the arrival of Angel di Maria from Real Madrid for a British record fee of £59.7 million.
Adnan Januzaj was the boy wonder last season; now you wonder if the Belgium international will find a place in van Gaal’s system. Van Gaal is belatedly splashing the Glazer cash to bring in Ander Herrera, Luke Shaw, Marcos Rojo and di Maria though more than anything, the world and his brother can see the Reds need a midfield enforcer and a commanding central defender.
As the transfer window closes on Monday, time is running out for the two players United must sign if it is to make any significant impact this season.
While van Gaal’s methods have proved hugely rewarding with Ajax, AZ, Barcelona and Bayern Munich plus Holland, the way he is going about his new job has brought a collective scratching of heads in England. He started by insisting on playing his trademark three-man defensive unit with wing-backs. The players van Gaal has had at his disposal so far do not look comfortable with this formation. The manager said it can take two or three months to implement his ideas, though by that time United’s season could effectively be over.
Having bought di Maria, van Gaal spoke about “whether we now have to change the system.” Surely you buy a player to fit a system rather than hoping to find one that suits him? Especially when he cost almost £60 million.
The display in the 4-0 Capital One Cup defeat by League One club MK Dons was as poor as I have seen from a United side. United has suffered heavier defeats, but this performance was an embarrassment to the club.
While there were some unfamiliar names in the lineup, United still fielded seven full internationals and five Premier League winners. No Manchester United team should lose 4-0 to such lowly opposition. In fact, it is the first time since 1956 that United has lost by a four-goal margin to a lower league side.
Jonny Evans had the worst game of his career, wing-backs Antonio Valencia and Ashley Young cannot perform the defensive duties expected of them. Whoever exchanged shirts with Anderson would barely have needed to wash the United player’s jersey. It was 72 minutes before United managed a shot on target. Van Gaal said he “wasn’t surprised” at the result — how low were his expectations, then?
He sacrificed the easier of the two competitions United can win this season. All it has left now is the F.A. Cup.
With no European distractions, it was puzzling that van Gaal decided to throw in so many kids against MK Dons rather than select a team designed for victory. Unless a couple of outstanding defensive players are signed by Monday’s transfer deadline United will be staring at a second successive season without European football.
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IT IS the sort of thing that always happens to someone else.
A woman won a free bet — £2.50 and the bookmaker would not have thought such charity could be costly.
The bet was laid before MK Dons’ remarkable 4-0 win over Manchester United. The woman, presumably a betting rookie, thought United would win 4-0 so wrote that score on the betting slip. She assumed everyone would know she meant United to win, unaware that in football the home team is named first.
Her mistake won her £1,250 when the 500-1 scoreline proved correct. The most lucrative error she will ever make.
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IT WAS probably the easiest decision Roy Hodgson will ever have to make as England manager.
From a short list of two, Hodgson opted for Wayne Rooney ahead of Chelsea’s Gary Cahill to be the England captain in succession to Steven Gerrard. Rooney was given the job because of a lack of alternatives rather than his obvious leadership qualities.
A captain is either someone who inspires those around him by his personality, his presence and his absolute commitment to the cause. Or a player who leads by example, not necessarily vocal, but the level of his performances sets the bar for others. Steven Gerrard ticks all the first boxes, Bobby Moore the second.
The newly appointed Manchester United captain fits somewhere in between. Rooney is not someone to clap his hands and offer encouragement to his teammates while he is too often most vocal to match officials.
Christopher Davies was a longtime Premier League correspondent for the London Daily Telegraph.