Time is a precious resource. In the world of a football manager, there are few things as coveted. Before the advent of the Premier League and even shortly afterward, time was in bountiful supply. But once the money started to flood through the English game, time quickly started to evaporate. Chairman and fans demanded instant reciprocation of their faith in the manager by means of results.
While Louis Van Gaal’s results so far haven’t been bad, anything other than a Champions League finish and his time will quickly be running out. Although Manchester United are within touching distance of that, their tough run in means that they now face a very realistic possibility of two straight seasons without Champions League football.
Only three managers have used more formations than the Dutchman and they are either out of a job or in the wrong end of the table. While the constant change in formations in itself isn’t a bad thing, if it was a means to an end, there would be little problem in that.
But the truth is that we are in the home stretch of the 2014/2015 season and we are no closer to finding out Van Gaal’s best XI than we were at the start of the season. While injuries and suspensions haven’t helped, they still aren’t enough reason for United to be so devoid of anything resembling their unique identity.
The only thing that is certain for now is that United have stumbled their way to a Champions League place so far without ever convincing anyone. While the results are often alright, they still aren’t what you would expect of a side who has dominated the league over the past two decades.
The “United way” of playing has seldom been seen this season and under the tutelage of the veteran manager, United have moved to a more passive, patient, possession game.
The Van Gaal of the 90’s with his radical ideas and idealistic ways of playing football, would certainly not approve of the current United side. But the Dutchman’s progression in recent years, especially since the AZ Alkmaar job has taken a more pragmatic, results-oriented twist.
His glittering CV might let him off the hook this season, but the bitter truth is that both Van Gaal and United are at a crossroads at the minute. Here is an example of a club and a manager with rich-attacking traditions, who are forced into doing things, the way they don’t always want to.
Possession has never been an integral aspect of United’s play but with a dearth of quality defenders, Van Gaal has decided that possession is the best form of defense and has hence developed a team, that seldom wants to give the ball away.
While that isn’t too bad, the problem for United is that, they are keeping possession, but are unable to do much with it. There is no end product and often the ball returns to the goalkeeper, who is forced to lump it forward and the whole cycle begins all over again.
United have always been about fast attacking interplay and quick one-touch passing near the box, but that has been absent so far this season. Aside from Rooney they seem to lack a world class strikers and the wingers that were their lifeblood in the last twenty years are all but extinct these days.
As a result, fans have been furious, screams of “attack, attack, attack” from the Stretford End has become commonplace and a club who have always been recognised for their history, tradition and style of play, currently lack an identity.
So the genius that is Van Gaal must decide whether he wants possession or penetration. Whether he wants incisive fast breaks or slow, methodical build-up play.
The change of manager was always going to bring a club, that is so used to the consistency, to a cross road and so it has come to pass. The sooner the club crosses into one side, the better it is for both United and Van Gaal.