For as long as I have been alive and watching football, Manchester United could be relied upon to try and entertain. Not now. Manager Louis Van Gaal – the most stubborn of men – is confident he knows what he is doing. Man Utd fans are not so sure. And who can blame them?
The team that entered the lions den at Bournemouth contained few names you’d recognise. To throw young ones into that game was always likely to be a risky proposition. Injuries mean the United squad may be running on reserves of fuel, but they are not running on empty. Indeed the starting 11 that faced Bournemouth cost the club over £200 million. Not that you’d have known that watching them play.
Even during the match Van Gaal had opportunities to send on more experienced players against a confident, attacking Bournemouth side that are a pleasure to watch. Their manager Eddie Howe, who celebrated victory by taking his dog for a walk, is that rare beast these days. An Englishman managing a team in the English Premier League. And, for added measure, a humble one.
Louis Van Gaal is a man full of a sense of self importance. He’s rude, arrogant and if he has a plan, he is failing to get it across to his players.
That they are only four points off the top of the Premier League is neither here nor there. Regardless of whether he has a full compliment of first team players to choose from, or some expensively purchased youngsters, he has turned Manchester United into a sterile team. The players appear constipated. Unsure of what they should be doing, afraid to take chances and possessing a safety first, pass it back to the goalkeeper state of mind.
That’s not the Manchester United style of play supporters have seen down the decades. Manchester United are playing as if they were managed by Tony Pulis. He’s a manager who first sets up a side not to lose and builds from there. Pulis has kept many an ordinary team in the top flight of football.
But this is Manchester United!
Would George Best, dead 10 years last month, recognise this Louis Van Gaal Man Utd squad as one fit to wear the shirt? I don’t think so.
I am not alone in being baffled by his substitutions. I watched the game on Saturday and thought Fellaini was offering the most serious threat to Bournemouth, as evidenced by his determination when scoring a scrappy equaliser. He was taken off by Van Gaal.
When Jesse Lingard was injured after half an hour many watching on thought Ashley Young would replace him. The Van Gaal babies could have done with some experience on the pitch. Instead the manager opted to give another rookie a run out. Andreas Pereira joined the fray and fairly swiftly made his mark on the game, and came close to doing the same on the body of Bournemouth’s lively player, Junior Stanislas. A yellow card followed.
Post match the manager said Young had told him the day before he was not fully fit. But that applied to more than one of United’s substitutes. Entering injury time the centre back Phil Jones warmed up. He was not 100% fit but I presumed the towering Jones would be sent up front to impose himself and use his height in the hope of setting up or scoring a late equaliser. No. Van Gaal simply replaced one defender, McNair, with another. Why? To protect their imminent 2-1 defeat? We were in the 91st minute by that stage. Surely you send on the cavalry, half fit or not.
Van Gaal doesn’t listen to anyone. Ryan Giggs sits there offering advice, but he’s being ignored. Giggs knows the Manchester United tradition. Play entertaining football.
Even in 1974, when the Red Devils found themselves playing in the second tier of English football, they entertained. I recall being at Hillsborouh for a thrilling 4-4 draw between Sheffield Wednesday and the visiting Man Utd side managed by Tommy Docherty. United had fallen out of the top flight but they had not forgotten the tradition going back to the Busby Babes and to the best team, the 60’s side of Best, Law and Charlton.
The Manchester United side that lost so tamely at Bournemouth looked not only inexperienced, they appeared to be lacking in direction. If anything this current United squad play with a fear of losing. They look scared of entertaining, as though they have been ordered not to play in a cavalier manner.
They are taking on the appearance of their manager. And that’s not a pretty sight!