It sums up the mood at Man Utd this season that they won on Saturday and still left Old Trafford as disgruntled in their own way as Aston Villa fans were with the state of affairs at their own club – and they’d just been relegated!
So speculation continues to rage about the future of Louis van Gaal, even after they won against Crystal Palace last night to close in on the top four.
We seem to talk, and be asked, about it every week on the Retro United podcast, and I can only repeat what I’ve said on there. It all seems a bit of a lost cause. He hasn’t changed or adapted since he arrived; he’s ruled with discipline, and been bullish in the face of criticism. It’s good to have conviction and belief in your system but when it hasn’t been working, that stubbornness has backfired, which has led to doubts all over the club.
Regardless of your opinion about which players have done well, the injuries United have suffered this season only served to highlight the thin squad that Van Gaal has. And, with four transfer windows gone in his time at the club, that’s not good enough.
I was back in England recently and attended the Liverpool Europa League game at Old Trafford. Normally when I return, if United are doing well, the pleasantries on arrival usually consist of things like ‘great to see you Gordon’, or ‘remember those goals against Derby!’ – the last couple of years it’s been more like ‘have you brought your boots?’ and ‘we could do with you out there!’
I know those comments are made with tongue in cheek but the point is they wouldn’t be made at all if the fans were happy with what they’re seeing. In the main, anyway. Of course there is excitement from players like Marcus Rashford, who continued his fine start with the winner against Villa – but is it just a coincidence that he, like the other young players, have been a breath of fresh air? They’re untested, relatively new to being around Van Gaal, and allowed to play with more freedom than senior players.
So there’s a split in the camp, with fans willing to give the kids a break and show them patience. Maybe if Van Gaal had thrown them in earlier, he’d be getting a little more patience from the supporters, but the time for the manager to ask for patience is long gone. It seems more like accident than design, but that’s United’s selection policy all season long – it’s resembled a jamboree bag, and you don’t know what you’re going to get from one game to the next.
This last week has been the perfect example. They got thumped at Spurs, exposing some players who are simply not capable of producing the standard United need to be where they were five or six years ago. Then, they pull out an unlikely win at West Ham in the FA Cup, and against an extremely poor Aston Villa side, they struggle to even get a goal. And they were hanging on at the end.
Wins at Liverpool and Manchester City leave you scratching your head with what United are capable of but, looking at the league this season, very few conclusions can be achieved from studying their form. The only thing to note is that change is very evidently needed and probably not just on the management side.
Which of United’s players can hold their head up high and say they’ve justified their price tag or wage packet?
It’s been a tremendous disappointment and it hurts to say that because one thing that you could never say about United once upon a time is that they were lacking in commitment and drive. Look at Leicester City, embodied by Jamie Vardy – a player I can relate to in terms of where he came from, the lower leagues, the school of hard knocks he graduated from. Dele Alli at Tottenham is another. These are players whose energy levels have made all the difference and look like being key individuals for England in the European Championships this summer. Players who are the heartbeat of their team.
Players United were once famed for having – it’s what they’re missing, and it’s obvious in its absence.