Different details, same problem for United.
For all the comparisons between this season and last for Manchester United – the adapting to new thinking, new ways and ultimately a new life for the club after the departure of the legendary Sir Alex Ferguson – the issue remains that they may still have failed to match that blueprint set by the Scot; the near-impossible job of matching the standards of what is required as manager of Manchester United.
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David Moyes looked out of his depth from the start, it is generally accepted. After doing a fine job with little pressure and expectation at Everton, the Scot simply could not deal with the different standards required at Old Trafford; the playing style was not ambitious enough, and the players didn’t seem inspired as their performance levels dropped drastically even though the same personnel managed to win the Premier League title comfortably just the year before.
Louis van Gaal is certainly no Moyes, and that is working in his favour at the moment. Still, following a disappointing 1-0 defeat at home to Southampton, the Dutchman’s identical points record at this stage of the season to Moyes last year makes for grim reading. Is the progress all a bit of an illusion? Have United done basically the same things under a different name? Is van Gaal just better at managing the media and putting on a brave front? Will his reputation in the game get him the time that Moyes could only have dreamed of?
Luckily for United, Arsenal and Liverpool being significantly worse this season means it might not matter in terms of finishing in an all-important top four place and bringing Champions League football back to the club. But soon enough their rivals will improve again, and there are signs that this new approach by LVG won’t necessarily fool the fans for too long.
While Moyes’ negative and unambitious style may not have been ‘the United way’, neither is van Gaal’s method of huge spending. There were whispers of discontent from Ferguson about the Dutchman’s approach in the transfer market, and the sale of homegrown striker Danny Welbeck to Arsenal in the summer was met with great shock. Now, the most promising young player at the club, Adnan Januzaj, looks to be heading down a similar route as he is linked with the likes of Juventus after falling out of favour this season. Bringing through young players has been a major part of this club’s identity under Ferguson and it led to great success. If big spending in the manner of Chelsea or Manchester City continues and leads only to top four finishes, van Gaal surely won’t last long at Old Trafford.
Replacing Ferguson may well be an impossible task. We are talking, after all, about probably the greatest manager in the history of the game. There are few who could consistently lift players to a level of greatness that would otherwise be beyond them, though looking at the job Diego Simeone has done at Atletico Madrid suggests there may be coaches out there better suited to at least continuing ‘the United way’ where both Moyes and van Gaal have failed, both in their own unique ways.
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