Sunday afternoon’s clash with West Ham marked the latest opportunity for Manchester United fans to take a long, hard look at the sum total of Louis van Gaal’s efforts to date.
A frustrating 1-1 draw, earned only through a last-minute strike from Daley Blind, allowed Southampton to reclaim third spot in the Premier League, and piled the pressure on the Red Devils to start attacking with the panache and guile their reputation merits.
Far from being a breaking point for weary fans, the result at the Boleyn Ground was just the deliverance of another uninspiring performance; one of the ilk that the Old Trafford faithful have been subjected to all too often this campaign.
The reference back to the pump-it-long technique, utilising Marouane Fellaini’s dominant size and aerial ability has been a focal point for criticism, but it’s not nearly the biggest problem to be confronted.
As a Real Madrid supporter myself - 17 years and counting - it’s of special interest to me when other clubs attempt to adopt the money-for-success way of thinking. Roman Abramovich’s takeover of Chelsea in 2003 heralded such an emphasis, Manchester City’s coffer-busting injection in 2008 was similar etc etc.
The Gaalactico approach
That’s why I watched with intrigue as United began to be linked with a flurry of bids for high-profile figures upon the appointment of Louis van Gaal. Change was to be expected of course, given the nature of David Moyes’ solitary campaign in charge, and it wasn’t too long before the term ‘Gaalactico’ - a play on words for Real’s infamous Galactico regime - was bandied around.
Sure enough in excess of £150 million was spent on the likes of Angel Di Maria, Radamel Falcao, Daley Blind, Marcos Rojo, Ander Herrera and Luke Shaw. All of them costing a fair whack - even Falcao, who technically remains an AS Monaco player - and all of them, with the exception of Di Maria and Falcao, finding themselves new to the table of speculation stars sit at when in-form.
The monetary mistake
To say Van Gaal’s approach to the market, transfer kitty in hand, was centred around improving the attack, is an understatement. Whilst allowing the experienced trio of Patrice Evra, Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand to leave the onus was put upon attracting big names.
Not necessarily players United needed for the current climate, but players that would quell the calling for a ‘wow’ signing. Players who allayed fears that United couldn’t attract big names without Champions League football.
The result has yielded a side not only extremely top heavy, but one that hasn’t quite yet figured out how to get the best out of the world-class talent it boasts. United sit fourth in the Premier League, but that’s more a damning indictment of how topsy turvy the division has been this season, not how efficient Van Gaal’s regime has made his squad.
As such the fortunes of the Manchester giants aren’t reflecting the financial endorsement put forward prior to their manager’s maiden term in office. During Abramovich’s first season with Chelsea the club managed to attain a second-placed finish, which was their most impressive finish since the Premier League's inception.
City meanwhile, whilst operating in their first season full season under Khaldoon Al Mubarak - summer transfer window included - leapt from 10th to 5th in the Premier League.
United, for all their big names and proof that their reputation wasn’t eternally damaged by Moyes, are under-performing drastically. Arguments stand for the theory that it is a rebuilding process that takes time to bring fruits, but at the same time if that’s the case then Van Gaal might have saved a good deal of money last summer and achieved the same results.
Importance of perception change
If you’re a supporter with visions for the future, content to see United outlay as much money as they need to in order to slowly climb back up the English rankings, then you may not be too disappointed.
If you’re of the opinion that £150 million spent deserves more than scraping a top four finish virtue of a world-class goalkeeper and lacklustre displays from the other usual suspects, you’ll wholeheartedly agree that it’s simply not good enough.