Has there really been progress under Louis van Gaal?

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Louis van Gaal arrived in Manchester amid much pomp and acclaim following his heroics with the Dutch national side, guiding them to the semi-finals of the World Cup, and heralded as the man to rebuild following the disappointing tenure of David Moyes.

He was very much the antithesis of Moyes - the humble and quiet Moyes had arrived following a long spell at Everton and without a trophy to his name, but with a reputation for getting the best out of the limited resources at his disposal; on the contrary, the boisterous and outspoken Van Gaal represented a formidable force, willing to confront and dispose of big name stars if they failed to follow his philosophy. He had the support of results, and a string of titles, including the Champions League, under his belt.

It was agreed that perhaps too much was expected too soon, and that this would be a long-term rebuilding and revamping of the United philosophy while seeing short-term progress. Creating a young team, mingled with a few new signings of great stature to help propel United back into the elite both now and in the future.


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Fast forward a year and the results show that Van Gaal has achieved this. A fourth placed finish last term was by no means remarkable, but was an improvement and has brought Champions League football back to the red half of Manchester.

And, in spite of a recent blip at Swansea, the Red Devils have made a solid start to this season, level on points with Arsenal and Liverpool, the two clubs most likely to be their competitors for Champions League football come the end of the season (although, on a side note, don't discount Swansea. Could be serious force this season).

Van Gaal learnt from humiliating defeats at the beginning of last season - chief among them a 5-3 loss at the hands of newly-promoted Leicester City - and has began to prioritise defence. His side have kept four clean sheets and the once vulnerable-looking Chris Smalling looks like a new player thanks to the confidence instilled into him by his manager.

Plenty of young players have featured in this improvement too, including the likes of Luke Shaw and Memphis Depay, while the acquisition of Anthony Martial sees another prodigious youngster ready to strut his stuff at Old Trafford.

Van Gaal must also be given credit for giving academy products opportunities last season - he gave debuts to the likes of Tyler Blackett and Paddy McNair, while giving opportunities to James Wilson following his introduction under Ryan Giggs.

So, Van Gaal has been a success, right? Ah, if only it were that simple...

Despite what you may have heard hundreds of times, results are not everything. One only has to delve below the fragile veneer at Old Trafford to see that the club, in fact, has more problems now than it did prior to the Dutchman's arrival.

Two 1-0 wins against mediocre opposition (sorry Villa and Tottenham fans, but it's true I'm afraid), a draw against an equally average Newcastle side and a loss to a Swansea side constructed on a fraction of United's budget does not represent a good start to the season.

Even in those victories the Red Devils looked devoid of attacking intent, with goals being produced thanks to an unfortunate own goal and one individual piece of skill. 

Wayne Rooney has looked laboured and inapposite as a lone striker in Van Gaal's system, while Van Gaal is struggling to find a constant number ten to provide adequate support. Juan Mata is a superb footballer but fails to provide the penetration required from a wide man, leaving the side without an effective influence on the right flank. 

One could put this down to a lack of resources at his disposal, but sympathy can only extend so far - despite a lack of a convincing number nine Van Gaal has disposed of Welbeck, Van Persie and, most shockingly in my opinion, Javier Hernandez since his arrival, as well as failing to procure the best from Radamel Falcao. 

Moreover, he has failed to solve the biggest problem, one that has been an issue since his arrival - the defence. Yes, they conceded less goals per game (0.94) than under Moyes (1.06) - although to emphasise my previous point, Moyes' side actually scored more per game - but they still look fragile against quality opposition.

Daley Blind was made to look like a Sunday League footballer by Bafetimbi Gomis, while Marcos Rojo hasn't looked convincing since his arrival. The club has spent a quarter of a billion pounds since Van Gaal arrived, and yet a midfielder is still playing in the heart of their defence.


Van Gaal has been credited with beginning the careers of many a great young player - Xavi, Seedorf and Muller to name but a few - and Man United fans had hoped Van Gaal would continue this tradition at his new club. Although initially giving chances to a number of youngsters - albeit out of necessity due to defensive shortcomings - he appears to have veered from this tradition.

Adnan Januzaj, a bright spark against Aston Villa, has been shipped out on loan, as has Tyler Blackett. Paddy McNair has rarely been seen since Christmas. Andreas Perreira has failed to be given a chance, while Van Gaal has been reluctant to turn to James Wilson even in light on United's clear dearth of a striker to support the goal-shy Rooney.

To his credit Van Gaal has taken much more of a hard approach following Moyes' exit, who was often considered a soft touch. Having said this, his failure to compromise has seen two Spanish international goalkeepers left to train with the reserves, formerly one of the greatest strikers on the planet bereft of confidence and also in the reserves, and a number of quality players mercilessly shunted out of the exit door.

The Dutchman has raised results in the short term and he exudes confidence, meaning the fans have a greater feeling of confidence in him than in his predecessor. He has also brought in some very good players and must be praised for that. But the way in which he has done it, with such an astronomical rate of spending, in simply unsustainable, and none of the signings can truly be said to have lived up to their potential.

Indeed, he was even cited by Pedro as a reason he opted against joining United. The team are not playing well and have not consistently performed well for as long as I can remember, and United fans have the right to demand a lot more.

Van Gaal has done a job, but has been hiding behind the facade of his 'philosophy'. Don't be surprised to see the club in absolute turmoil once he vacates the dug-out - no irreparably so, but into another post-Ferguson state - and I would be shocked if we saw his 'philosophy', or certainly his style of play, die out within a couple of years of him leaving.

Louis van Gaal
Premier League
Manchester United

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