Manchester United duo Chris Smalling and Phil Jones mustn't know whether they're coming or going. Both players have been in-and-out of the Red Devils side over the last couple of years, and haven't really been able to claim a position of their own.
In fact, both stars have been the subject of criticism in recent time, but still managed to secure a place in Roy Hodgson's England squad for the World Cup. At Manchester United, however, the pair will be desperate to secure a regular place in the first team next term.
Some will argue that the duo haven't progressed in recent years. Jones, who arrive at Manchester United from Blackburn Rovers in 2011 for a huge £16 million, was tipped to become a future captain for both club and country.
In 2011 Stuart Pearce, who was England U21 manager at the time, insisted the duo could succeed at the top. In fact, he compared the pair of them to former Manchester United captain Nemanja Vidic.
Back then, Pearce said: "They've got a steely determination between the two of them. They want to defend, they're happy to get hit with the ball to keep it out the back of the net – and that's a real trait to have. Look at the likes of Vidic, and see how he enjoys defending. People don't like playing against him. I think these two have got a bit of that in them as well."
The pair have, over the last couple of years, played alongside the Serbian, but they've certainly not looked in the same league as him. Vidic, of course, is an experienced stalwart of a defender, but Jones and Smalling, for that matter, just haven't seemed to learn from him.
They have though, on occasions, proved that they are good enough for club and country, but just haven't shown their credentials on a consistent basis.
FERDINAND AND VIDIC
But, Manchester United are entering a new era, and it's time for the duo to show their worth. They will no longer find themselves behind the experienced duo of Rio Ferdinand and Vidic.
That centre-half pairing are no more, as they have now gone their separate ways. Jones and Smalling will no longer be in their shadows, but can they step up? Fans of course must remember that Jones is 22 and Smalling is only two years his senior at 24.
They are by no means expected to be entering the prime of their careers, but that shouldn't stop them becoming Manchester United's No.1 centre-back pairing.
Van Gaal then must be the man to take them to the next level. The Dutch tactician, who is further enhancing his reputation at the World Cup, must make improving Jones and Smalling a priority.
In fact, the new Manchester United boss must put his faith in them, as he looks to rebuild the Old Trafford outfit. The Red Devils, at the back, were poor last term and conceded a number of sloppy goals throughout the campaign - which is something that must change under the new regime.
Jones and Smalling must have a direction to head into and their relationship should be worked on under Van Gaal.
Van Gaal should forget making a new defender signing a priority in the summer transfer window. The potential signing of Arsenal captain Thomas Vermaelen would, of course, add experience to the Red Devils' back-line, but is he really a better option than the pair?
Smalling and Jones have to be thrown into the deep end next season, but they must also be trusted.
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