English Premiership

Van Gaal's United legacy ... in 6 points

2016-05-24 08:11
Ryan Giggs and Louis van Gaal (AFP)

Manchester - So, after $375m in transfers, two seasons of often mind-numbing soccer, one trophy and countless references to his "process" and "philosophy," Louis van Gaal is no longer manager of Manchester United.

After David Moyes' ill-fated 10-month tenure in the 2013-14 season, post-Alex Ferguson, United needed an experienced, larger-than-life coach to bring stability to England's biggest club.

Van Gaal, just off a successful second stint with the Dutch national team and with his resume including spells at Barcelona and Bayern Munich, was thought to be that man. And he was handed unprecedented sums of money in the transfer market to renew the squad and allow it to compete at the top end of the English and European game.

Within two seasons, he is out - and United look no closer to regaining its stature of old, on the field at least.

So how will Van Gaal be remembered? Certainly his brand of football won't be missed by the regulars at Old Trafford. And United's owners will be scratching their heads at where all the money went.

Yet his occasional frivolity on the touchline have shown a lighter side to the man nicknamed the "Iron Tulip," and his drip-feeding of academy players into the first team could reap its rewards in the years to come. In Anthony Martial, United could also potentially have a world star in its midst.

Here's a look at Van Gaal's legacy at United:


Van Gaal will forever be known as the man who oversaw an outlay of $375m on new signings over two seasons without ostensibly improving his squad.

Expensive signings like Angel Di Maria ($99m), Memphis Depay ($48m), Morgan Schneiderlin ($39m) and Bastian Schweinsteiger ($23m) have disappointed or failed to adapt to Van Gaal's rigid system. Di Maria is a genuine world-class player who was a star at Real Madrid and has gone on to be a key player at Paris Saint-Germain. How he was wasted by Van Gaal.

Despite Van Gaal's heavy spending, he managed to leave himself an unbalanced squad lacking in strikers and creative attacking midfielders. Daley Blind has played as an emergency center back for most the season and he cannot settle on regular fullbacks.

United will have to give the new manager - expected to be former Chelsea coach Jose Mourinho - more financial backing to reshape the squad, yet again.


United's end-of-season scoring stats make grim reading for Van Gaal. The 49 goals netted in the league is United's lowest return in Premier League history, and never previously has the team failed to score in 10 games in one campaign.

Meanwhile, United went into halftime drawing 0-0 in 24 of its games this season. And its players played more backward passes than any other team in the Premier League.

No wonder "Attack, attack, attack" was the soundtrack at most matches at Old Trafford, where fans were spoiled on a diet of entertaining football for so long under Ferguson.

Van Gaal spoke so often about his "philosophy" and he'll leave with few knowing what it actually was. On the face of it, it is a functional, risk-averse, possession-based style that was never going to be a hit at United. Mourinho, Van Gaal's expected replacement, will desperately need to inject some pace into United's midfield play.


As if his style wasn't enough of a turn-off to United fans, Van Gaal hardly made them dream either.

One of his regular phrases was that United's expectations were too high, suggesting that the king of English football for two decades had better get used to leaner times in the coming years.

They were probably sentiments rooted in common sense - the huge money sloshing around in the Premier League because of lucarive domestic and international TV deals has leveled the playing field — but it's not the rhetoric fan or players want to be hearing from their manager.

It felt like David Moyes never got the enormity of the United job and the same accusation could sometimes be leveled at Van Gaal, despite his vast experience.


Some would say his tactics were a demonstration of "total football" long favored by the Dutch. Many more likely would say they were the result of muddled thinking.

What proved to be his last match - the FA Cup final - provides an example. Ashley Young, a wide midfielder, came on as a second-half substitute and played as a lone striker. By the end of the match, Young was playing at left back and United also had a center forward in deep midfield (Wayne Rooney).

In one of United's most significant matches this season, against Wolfsburg in the Champions League in December, Van Gaal ended the game with two young full backs (Guillermo Varela and Cameron Borthwick-Jackson) making just their second appearances for the team, and a 21-year-old midfielder in Nick Powell whose last match for United came 18 months previously in the English League Cup. United lost 3-2 and was eliminated.

Van Gaal mostly played playmaker Juan Mata out wide, and often played two holding midfielders in home games, restricting United's attacking potential.


Van Gaal's one saving grace has been his adherence to United's traditions of bringing academy graduates into the first team.

Some of them might have been forced on him because of injuries - striker Marcus Rashford springs to mind - but he hasn't been afraid to use young players and decided against more splurges in the transfer market in the January windows, instead keeping faith in youth often in tough times.

The club's pathway for youth remains open, and youngsters coming through will see how the likes of Rashford, Jesse Lingard, Cameron Borthwick-Jackson and Timothy Fosu-Mensah have established themselves as regular squad members and potential stars of the future.


Van Gaal's turn of phrase in news conferences and TV interviews often drew sniggers and laughs, notably last month when he said that a hair-pulling incident during a United-Leicester match was only acceptable in "sex masochism."

Occasionally he has proved to be an eccentric entertainer on the touchline, too. Most famously, Van Gaal fell to the ground on purpose while remonstrating with a fourth official in the technical area during United's match against Arsenal. Lying on the ground and still holding his clipboard in his left hand, Van Gaal stared at the official in mock horror and appeared to be unhappy at an apparent dive by an Arsenal player moments earlier.


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