Seated high in the stands with a disapproving look, Sir Alex Ferguson became a defining image of David Moyes’s reign.
In less than a year, Moyes took the 2012/13 champions to seventh place, all the while failing to emerge from his predecessor’s shadow.
Due to his seismic ego and impressive track record, Louis van Gaal has remained unperturbed by such a personal legacy, however; as the boos rang across Old Trafford following last week's stalemate with PSV, he too is beginning to feel the weight of United’s history.
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For more than two decades, United fans were spoilt on a yearly basis with regular silverware, delivered in an exhilarating fashion. As 13 Premier League titles and two Champions League crowns were won - an unshakeable philosophy, inspired by the Matt Busby era, was ingrained into the club along with an expectation for entertainment.
United fans have to an extent, just reason to gripe: Manchester’s working class character as a city has been reflected in their play - dating back to the Busby and Jimmy Murphy era, with hard-working players expected each weekend to temporarily alleviate the concerns and worries of their fans.
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This expectation to entertain has been intensified with rising prices for season tickets: they now range between £532 and £950 for adults along with United’s consistent success throughout the Ferguson era.
Van Gaal’s stifling style has attracted significant criticism this season with his consistent use of two holding midfielders often under the spotlight. Bastian Schweinsteiger has been valuable in closing out games since his summer arrival, however, neither he nor Morgan Schneiderlin are trusted to break forward and join United’s attack.
Dominance in midfield is often crucial in determining results at the highest level, but in a home game against PSV, where a win would have guaranteed qualification for the knock-out rounds of the Champions League, required a more daring strategy.
Schweinsteiger did pose a goal threat at Bayern Munich, scoring 34 goals in 130 league games, and one must be trusted to act as a conventional No.8 playing box-to-box against the weaker teams. His goal against Leicester on Saturday demonstrated how the World Cup winner can contribute in the final third.
A dose of reality is also required for the Old Trafford faithful. Although Ferguson forged an established identity in his 26 years, his era has ended and so has United’s swashbuckling style. 4-4-2 is no longer a widely-used formation whilst the great Glaswegian was unique in his ability to consistently deliver both trophies and excitement, as evidenced by the 11-year gap since Arsene Wenger last lifted the Premier League trophy.
Football is a notoriously fickle sport and many would do well to remember performances such as the 2-0 defeat to Olympiakos or the 3-0 hammering away at Everton under Moyes.
Though Van Gaal’s measured approach may fail to entertain, United have no divine right to success and under the Dutchman they are building solid foundations, Chris Smalling and company have kept 12 clean sheets in all competitions this season.
United’s evolution into a behemoth of football owed much to their expansive style of play, but top level sport is determined by success.
Though, in an ideal world, Old Trafford will once again host performances characterised by ruthless attacking, but for now, fans of England’s most successful club should retain faith in Van Gaal’s methods in the knowledge that in a results business, the Dutchman will keep them in the hunt for silverware.
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