Van Gaal won’t budge for fans

Amid all the rancour and frustration, it has almost seemed to go unnoticed during this jarring spell for Manchester United that Louis van Gaal’s team have now gone seven hours and 45 minutes since anybody scored past them. It is their best run, defensively, since 2008, even if it does not seem like a cause for jubilation when we have to go back much further to find the last time a manager at Old Trafford faced so much open dissent.

That eruption of anger when Van Gaal removed Anthony Martial during an uptight 1-0 win over CSKA Moscow to put on his “Plan B”, Marouane Fellaini, had been building slowly. “One win in six,” Andy Mitten, the editor of United We Stand, posted on Twitter after the prosaic goalless draw at Crystal Palace last weekend. “No goals scored in four of those games of largely entertainment-free football. It’s nowhere near good enough.”

It also goes further back than just the last half-dozen games if the issue is about the team’s style, and the question of whether Van Gaal has to fit in with United’s traditions or the club have to fit in with him. For now, the answer was provided by the sulphurous reaction to Martial’s removal, and the chants that in effect called into question the Dutchman’s tactics.

Sir Alex Ferguson once banned MUTV, United’s own channel, after one of its presenters had the temerity to express a preference for 4-4-2 rather than 4-5-1. Van Gaal has not reached that stage but he does not like being questioned in this manner and that leaves everything feeling very awkward, given the way his philosophy is clearly grating with many fans.

Opta’s statistics show that United have made more backward passes (17%) than any other Premier League club so far this season. They have the lowest percentage when it comes to moving the ball forward (30%) and their ratio of sideways passes is the joint second highest in the league. At the same time, a club renowned for attack-minded football has a team that has taken only 77 shots, lower than every other top-flight side bar Sunderland and barely half as many as Manchester City’s 148.

“The frustration that echoed around Old Trafford was a clear reminder to the manager that they care little for his philosophy, flip charts or percentage of possession,” Iain McCartney, the author of 21 books on United, says. “Victory is important, but so is entertainment. ‘Go out and enjoy yourself’ was Sir Matt Busby’s philosophy and he knew that if his players adhered to his words then the supporters, the people who mattered, would be entertained. Obviously, football today is vastly different from the days of Busby’s great sides, and even those of Ferguson, but that final objective is still the same.”

McCartney has been watching United since the 1960s and his latest book, Building the Dynasty, tells the story about their rise from 1946 through to the Munich air disaster in 1958. He was at Old Trafford on Tuesday and understands the crowd’s exasperation. “Today’s United seldom excite and do little to entice supporters into going to watch them as they are no longer something special,” says McCartney.

“Supporters no longer enjoy watching them and teams no longer fear them. Goals win games and excite the fans, not the methodical football that is antagonising the Old Trafford faithful at present.

“Van Gaal has to realise that Manchester United is no ordinary club. Its success and position within the game is based on attacking football and that is something the supporters want to see.”

By now, however, United’s supporters should know enough about Van Gaal to realise that he does not bend for anybody. Van Gaal’s team have risen to the top of their Champions League qualifying group and the discord is not entirely new to him. At Barcelona, there were also times when he could not fully connect with the fans.


“His belief in tactical rigour brought him into conflict with many of his players and his inability to relate his ideas to the local media and the fans meant the team always seemed on the verge of imploding,” Maarten Meijer writes in his biography. “His critics depicted him as a kind of footballing zealot, a man wedded to his tactical dogma.”

Something similar is happening now, and nobody should expect it to change when Meijer also relays the story of how Van Gaal was once asked whether he had read Ik Heb Altijd Gelijk (I Am Always Right) by the Dutch author Willem Frederik Hermans. “A catchy title,” Van Gaal said. “But I would never say that about myself. I would add the nuance: ‘I am usually right.’” – © Guardian News & Media, 2015

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever. But it comes at a cost. Advertisers are cancelling campaigns, and our live events have come to an abrupt halt. Our income has been slashed.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years. We’ve survived thanks to the support of our readers, we will need you to help us get through this.

To help us ensure another 35 future years of fiercely independent journalism, please subscribe.

Advertising

Where is the deputy president?

David Mabuza is hard at work — it’s just not taking place in the public eye. The rumblings and discussion in the ANC are about factions in the ruling party, succession and ousting him

Zuma turns on judiciary as trial nears

Former president says pre-trial correspondence is part of another plot

SANDF inquiry clears soldiers of the death of Collins Khosa

The board of inquiry also found that it was Khosa and his brother-in-law Thabiso Muvhango who caused the altercation with the defence force members

Lockdown relief scheme payouts to employees tops R14-billion

Now employers and employees can apply to the Unemployment Insurance Fund for relief scheme payments
Advertising

Press Releases

Covid-19 and Back to School Webinar

If our educators can take care of themselves, they can take care of the children they teach

5G technology is the future

Besides a healthcare problem Covid-19 is also a data issue and 5G technology, with its lightning speed, can help to curb its spread

JTI off to court for tobacco ban: Government not listening to industry or consumers

The tobacco ban places 109 000 jobs and 179 000 wholesalers and retailers at risk — including the livelihood of emerging farmers

Holistic Financial Planning for Professionals Webinar

Our lives are constantly in flux, so it makes sense that your financial planning must be reviewed frequently — preferably on an annual basis

Undeterred by Covid-19 pandemic, China and Africa hold hands, building a community of a shared future for mankind

It is clear that building a community with a shared future for all mankind has become a more pressing task than ever before

Wills, Estate Administration and Succession Planning Webinar

Capital Legacy has had no slowdown in lockdown regarding turnaround with clients, in storing or retrieving wills and in answering their questions

Call for Expression of Interest: Training supply and needs assessment to support the energy transition in South Africa

GIZ invites eligible and professional companies with local presence in South Africa to participate in this tender to support the energy transition

Obituary: Mohammed Tikly

His legacy will live on in the vision he shared for a brighter more socially just future, in which racism and discrimination are things of the past

The best local and international journalism

handpicked and in your inbox every weekday