As the years go by and the faces change, United never seem to lose that innate ability to make things difficult for themselves. Any thoughts of ending the season on a high have been obliterated in recent weeks, as it only took Carrick getting injured and Rooney dropping back into midfield for old problems to re-emerge. After 3 defeats on the bounce, that period of 4 games when everything clicked during March and April now resembles more of a blip than a season-defining eureka moment.
Although Van Gaal has delivered a return to the Champions League, everything points towards another summer of extravagant spending and further squad upheaval. Back in August, Falcao and Di Maria were the 2 genuine big dawgs brought in yet both have proven spectacular flops. Young and Fellaini meanwhile, despite appearing to have no future here, each end the season as deserved first choice starters. Whether that’ll still be the case at the start of next term remains to be seen, but their upturn in fortunes highlights the futility of making predictions and the absolute minefield that is squad preparation and planning.
As well as the gruesome twosome of Radamel and Angel, the other major disappointment has been Luke Shaw – the £30M wunderkind who is currently looking about £25M overpriced. If you’re being kind, you can focus on the mitigating factors of his age, his inexperience and the constant injuries he’s suffered all season. Worryingly though, on the rare occasions he has featured, I’m hard pressed to recall very much that marks him out as anything special. At all. When I look at Shaw, he makes me think ‘John Curtis’. Playing for United just smacks of too much, too young for him at present – he’d be better off being taken out of the spotlight and trying to get his mojo back out on loan somewhere.
Another one who’s had a tough time of late is Adnan Januzaj, the fleet-footed, ferret-faced great white hope of the Moyes era who looked a genuine contender for about 15 minutes last season. This year, Adnan has been relegated to the dubious role of ‘comes on with 20 minutes left and gives the ball away repeatedly’ – it’s got to the stage where he knows it and everybody watching knows it too. Like Shaw, he looks like he’d benefit from a year away learning his trade elsewhere. He’s clearly not good enough to be starting games, and he’s not making any kind of impression during these brief cameo appearances. Whatever we’re doing with him currently doesn’t appear to be working, which suggests a re-think might be required before his career at OT stalls completely.
Still, as the arrival of Memphis Depay demonstrates, at least we’re doing our ‘business early’. You can’t pick up a paper or watch 5 minutes of SSN without being reminded how important it is to ‘get your business done early’… as if signing players in July or August is a completely catastrophic idea, tantamount to enlisting Harry Redknapp to oversee business on transfer deadline day. I have no idea about Depay. He’s got loads of tattoos, which means he looks like a footballer and he’s apparently got a bit of an attitude problem, which means he also acts like a footballer. Add in a 10 minute highlights reel on YouTube showing him tormenting the likes of NAC Breda and Go Ahead Eagles, and you’ve got all the evidence needed to suggest we’re onto a surefire winner with the lad.
An immeasurably pleasing sub-plot of the Depay capture is the news he was Liverpool’s chief object of desire this summer. Apparently they’ve been courting him for the last 18 months(!) and on one occasion, the player was even blessed with a papal visit from the great man himself, Brendan Rodgers. One can only imagine the cringeworthy introductory spiel he was subjected to, “I see you as a precious orchid, Memphis… I want to nurture you and nourish you.” Little wonder he opted for Old Trafford the moment big Louis strode in and slapped his balls on the table. Naturally, Rodgers was quick to refute any interest on LFC’s part, flatly denying reports to the contrary. This despite PSV recently going on record stating that Liverpool were in regular contact and talks had taken place between club and player. Oh dear.
What then, do we make of Van Gaal’s first year in charge? All season I’ve tried to remain positive, convincing myself we’ve been making progress in the face of setbacks that were to be expected. But truthfully, the last couple of weeks have been as grim as anything witnessed under Moyes. LVG himself hasn’t shown himself up as the barking, strutting mentalist some anticipated. He’s proven himself to be more of a chilled-out entertainer during his TV spots and press conferences – tersely avuncular as opposed to passionately unhinged.
There have been numerous occasions this season where we’ve looked in dire need of some sort of direction from the sidelines, particularly as we’ve struggled with the ability to change tempo and chase late goals. Once upon a time that would have been Fergie’s cue to start prowling the touchline, seeking out an instant response… which he found, more often than not. Van Gaal, almost disappointingly, appears to have taken a vow of stasis in such circumstances. Ryan Giggs easing himself off the bench with his hands in his pockets then waving his arms about a bit just doesn’t seem to have the desired effect.
If we’re assuming another half-dozen new faces arrive and a handful exit the club, that leaves United pretty much where we were at the start of this season. Another £150M down, players attempting to settle into English football and a manager still experimenting with his best formation and starting XL. At the moment, it’s acceptable because 4th represents steady progress after finishing 7th last year. Any failure to challenge for the title next term though, and LVG might be struggling to call on the goodwill he’s being afforded at present. Put another way, it’s doubtful whether many will tolerate a 3rd consecutive season of transition.
Anyway, that’s me done. See you back in August for more idle speculation, poorly judged opinion and juvenile bitching. Hugs.
Copyright Red News – May 2015