No sooner than Manchester United had lost the opening game of the 2014/15 Premier League season was new boss Louis van Gaal immediately sitting in a shadow of doubt.
The Dutchman’s appointment over the summer following the disastrous reign of David Moyes offered a brief respite for a support group who had seen an omnipotent empire reduced to ashes in the course of 12 months. His ideas were revolutionary, his methods the embodiment of order and control and his resume as good as any in football.
Introduction to despair
In short he was the ideal man to take the ashes at Old Trafford and turn them into the structural foundations of success. Money was spent without issue on huge names such as Angel Di Maria, Radamel Falcao and World Cup-finalist Marcos Rojo and an unbeaten pre-season saw a flame of defiance rise up in bellies of the Red Devils faithful.
Then the first days of Van Gaal’s maiden campaign in English football rolled around and the plague of uncertainty that whipped around the red half of Manchester with bubonic-like devastation ensued.
If United 1-2 Swansea City was enough to cast doubts over the 63-year-old’s true credentials then MK Dons 4-0 United, providing the other half of a sandwich filled by Sunderland 1-1 United, was enough to pump steroids into a body of discontent.
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Yet here we are now quickly approaching Christmas and Van Gaal’s side is merrily plodding along in 5th; just one victory stopping them from rising to third. It hasn’t been pretty, they’ve enjoyed copious amounts of fortune along the way and been forced to rely heavily on the endeavours of David De Gea but they’re in an enviable position which is made all the more impressive when their injury problems are factored in.
There’s barely a first-team star at Old Trafford who hasn’t been forced to spend time on the sidelines for one reason or another so far this term, forcing Van Gaal to cherry pick from the academy as a result.
Those who have graduated far earlier than they might have expected have excelled, and even ostracised characters such as Ashley Young and Marouane Fellaini have been handed new leases of life in the regime.
Best yet to come
The most pleasing thing of all for United fans though? The Red Devils aren’t even close to playing with maximum potency at the moment. They’ve laboured through results and nicked points here and there where victory looked all but impossible - Arsenal fans can tell you that - but ultimately they’ve been able to hold their position whilst the likes of Liverpool, Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal have looked incapable of it.
In a weird way reminiscent of Sir Alex Ferguson’s United the former Premier League champions are picking up points when they play frustratingly poorly, and the advantage their rivals have on them at the moment with the innumerable amount of injuries isn’t going to be around forever. All that stops them from looking irrevocably galvanised is a back-line orchestrated by a natural leader, perhaps Mats Hummels, or someone of his ilk.
The task at hand
Heading into tonight’s game against a high-flying Southampton side Van Gaal has the chance to make it five Premier League wins on the bounce. If he does then the naysayers will have been well and truly put to bet.
You might not like him, and he may have been forced to tinker drastically in order to find a winning formula, but the former Netherlands coach should be commended for how he’s turned doubt into genuine positivity. He's earning his £8m-a-year well.