Manchester United’s lost identity and the Louis van Gaal era

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With Danny Welbeck departing for Arsenal and Tom Cleverly joining Aston Villa on a season-long loan, the identity of Manchester United has been lost and reborn.

During the Sir Alex Ferguson era, the use of English players was a key priority, breeding players like David Beckham, Nicky Butt, Paul Scholes and the Neville brothers.

At the heart of the team were players who understood what winning the Premier League meant because they’d grown up watching it.

They didn’t lose cohesion during international breaks because the nucleus of the England team were Manchester United players so they spent the whole of the football season, learning and working together.

This carried on into Sir Alex’s last season in charge and even under David Moyes to an extent, as Wayne Rooney, Daniel Welbeck and Phil Jones amongst others were at the heart of both the international and domestic pictures.

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Under Louis Van Gaal, the specific emphasis on English talent has faded and despite brining Luke Shaw to the club, the team looks positively foreign from the midfield forwards.

The forward party looks likely to only include Rooney, alongside international stars Angel Di Maria, Juan Mata and Robin Van Persie. The role of Michael Carrick in the side also looks in doubt, as injury has kept him out of Van Gaal’s first team plans.

Daley Blind’s addition to the squad also enforces this, as the utility player will predominantly sit deep in midfield adding protection to a back three that has looked leaky so far this season, a role Carrick had made his own.

New-look side

It all combines to end the team mentality that had existed at Manchester United, where it wasn’t about one or two players but Manchester United as a unit. Take John O’Shea, Wes Brown or even Anderson, they wouldn’t get in other top four sides but their consistency as part of a team, saw them excel for Manchester United, without standing out.

This doesn’t appear to be the case now, with the stars being in the media’s focus, making Van Gaal’s cohort the most expensive Manchester United squad ever and it could test the team’s cohesion.

This isn’t to say that Old Trafford hasn’t seen big names, squads containing Ruud Van Nistlerooy and Ronaldo kept the team mentality, playing through one or two stand out names. The rest were largely nurtured through or purchased from lower down the league like Michael Carrick or Antonio Valencia and brought to the standards Old Trafford expects.


The £28.1 million spent on Juan Sebastián Verón to buy him from Lazio for instance was a different tact from Ferguson that didn’t really pay off. Verón struggled to get used to the faster game in England and wasn’t the creative force he had been in Italy, illustrating that Ferguson often did better with smaller domestic transfers.

The ethos that once existed has clearly shifted and Van Gaal has progressed the club into a new era, with only time being able to tell how successful it will be. The imprint of Sir Alex has gone and the squad cannot be labelled as a Ferguson team, the characteristics altered permanently.

Perhaps by doing what Moyes was tentative to do, Van Gaal will succeed, making Old Trafford his very own fortress. But straying too far from an ethos that led to a whole era of success under Ferguson and epitomised everything that the club was about could be dangerous and take United in a completely wrong direction.

It’s certainly a time of excitement around Old Trafford, but it needs to be an age that is sustainable as well as successful, in order to secure years of success and not just a season.

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Danny Welbeck
Paul Scholes
Louis van Gaal
Ryan Giggs
England Football
Manchester United
David Beckham
Premier League

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