Manchester United legend Gary Neville’s says that supporters should “let go” of the past and embrace manager Louis van Gaal less-than-attractive style of play. Under the Dutchman United has enjoyed a run that includes just one defeat in the past 19 matches, taking the Reds to third in the Premier League and into the FA Cup quarter-final. Yet, the veteran Dutch coach has come under fire recently for United’s style – West Ham United manager Sam Allardyce dubbed Van Gaal’s team “Long Ball United,” while former player Paul Scholes said that he was “struggling to watch” the team.
By contrast Neville argues that while fans are confused by United’s good form and poor performances, supporters should embrace the former and not the latter.
“I personally believe in attacking football, with a high tempo,” wrote Neville in the Telegraph this week.
“If United were committed to protecting that style of play at all costs they should have appointed a manager with those beliefs. But there was no way Van Gaal was going to come to Manchester United and adopt somebody else’s philosophy. It’s a bit like breaking up with a partner of 26 years and wanting the new person to be the same as the old one.”
Fair comment, although few suspected that Van Gaal would bring a brand of ultra-pragmatism to the club. After all, this is the same Van Gaal that built a vibrant Ajax side in the mid-1990s and the pre-cursor to Barcelona’s tika-taka kings in the early 2000s.
Champions League football is Van Gaal’s primary goal this season – one reason that the Dutchman’s significant bank of credit remains high despite the lukewarm reception to his team’s performances. It might not always remain that way. As Neville concludes, “Van Gaal’s work will be judged not by whether he can take United back into the Champions League this season but whether he can ultimately regain the English title.”
It remains open to question whether that success, should it come, will be with an attacking, attractive, side…. or otherwise.