It's July 6, 2014, the Netherlands are taking on Costa Rica in the quarter-finals of the World Cup. No goals and 120 minutes on the clock the two sides are heading for the dreaded penalty shoot-out. Netherlands manager Louis van Gaal makes a shock decision as he substitutes goalkeeper Jasper Cillessen for Tim Krul.
The Newcastle 'keeper went on to save two penalties in the shoot-out as his side made it to the semi-finals. Van Gaal was widely praised for a tactical master-stroke and many Manchester United fans saw it as a sign of things to come from the soon to be United manager.
An average Holland side would go on to finish third in the tournament. So when Louis van Gaal rocked up at Old Trafford, United fans were naturally optimistic. The Dutchman was supposed to restore the club to its former glory after a disastrous spell under David Moyes.
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Fast forward 18 months, and the man hired to take Manchester United back to the top received a chorus of boos as he trudged off following a humiliating 1-0 defeat to Southampton. The Old Trafford faithful turned on the manager after a sixth defeat of the season which left the Red Devils fifth in the Premier League.
THE THREE YEAR PLAN?
Shortly after van Gaal arrived at Manchester United he declared that he needed three years to restore the club to its former glory. The 64-year-old is now 20 months into his reign and signs of progress are minimal, in fact, the club have gone backwards if anything.
Van Gaal was cut some slack during his first season, the performances weren't fantastic but he secured an immediate return to the Champions League. A promising run towards the end of the 2014/15 season, which saw victories over Liverpool and Manchester City, evoked belief that United could once again be title challengers in 2015/16.
The expected title charge, has not become a reality, though. Instead, United find themselves battling for a place in the top four, just as they did in van Gaal's first season and in the later months of Moyes' reign.
Moyes' side had 40 points by this stage of the 2013/14 season, van Gaal's currently have 37. It is only through inconsistency from those around them that they are not already out of the race for the Champions League spots.
With the manager well into the rebuild that was supposed to take a maximum of three years, United fans are right to expect more signs of progress. If van Gaal has the answers to United's problems then he has done a great job of concealing them.
David Moyes, at least, had the excuse of being let down by the club in the transfer market. Chief executive Ed Woodward made a dog's dinner of his first transfer window and ended up paying over the odds for Marouane Fellaini while missing out on a series of high-profile targets.
Moyes was given £67.7 million to spend. In contrast, Woodward has spent over £250 million on van Gaal's behalf, yet after 23 games the club's record is worse than it was under Moyes. While today's football environment means that van Gaal can not be held responsible for the sums of money being thrown around, the fact is that the club have given him the kind of financial backing Moyes never received.
While the extortionate fees should ultimately be blamed on Woodward, it is Van Gaal who is responsible for identifying the club's transfer targets. Angel di Maria and Radamel Falcao were high-profile failures in van Gaal's first season. Marcos Rojo failed to make an impact while Daley Blind has been moved around so much that no one's quite sure where his best position is anymore.
Last summer, record-signing di Maria departed and PSV's Memphis Depay arrived in his place. However, the youngster has made even less of an impact than the Argentine - who has subsequently flourished at PSG.
Even the Dutchman's better signings have been frustrating. Ander Herrera was seen by many as the best signing of van Gaal's first transfer window, yet the Dutchman has been reluctant to give him a prolonged run in the team. Morgan Schneiderlin joined to bolster United's midfield but the Frenchman has been left out in a number of big matches this season. Then there's the case of Anthony Martial, the boy signed to solve United's striking problems who has instead been pushed out onto the left wing.
When Moyes was dismissed it was suggested that he could not been trusted with more funds in the transfer market, the same must surely apply to van Gaal. When you think of players signed under the Dutchman, it is far easier to identify failures than successes. There's no reason to think that he'll suddenly get it right in the next summer window.
BORING, BORING MAN UNITED
Needless to say, van Gaal's tactics have alienated a fair amount of United fans, the hostile reaction on Saturday was confirmation of that. Throughout his time in charge, Louis van Gaal has preached about his "philosophy" and the "process", but tactically he continues to be an enigma.
At the start of this campaign he could at least cling to the fact that his side were solid defensively, but they now look worryingly weak at the back. At Newcastle earlier this month United put in one of the best-attacking performances of van Gaal's reign but in doing so, forgot how to defend and drew 3-3. If you are looking for a complete performance, then only a 3-0 victory at Goodison Park stands out.
Simply put, United have become boring. Now, the players should, of course, shoulder some of the blame for the team's performances but it is the manager who is responsible for tactics. Unfortunately for United fans, their manager wants to employ a style of play which is completely at odds with the club's traditions.
The fans paying to watch their team are right to be aggrieved by the style of play they've witnessed at Old Trafford this season. Not only does Van Gaal's "philosophy" not fit with Manchester United, it does not fit with English football. The dull, possession-based football is the sign of a man who is stuck in the past and too stubborn to move with the times. Granted, Barcelona have excelled on a foundation based upon a similar philosophy, but their style also has penetration - something Van Gaal's United severely lack.
They had just one shot on target against Southampton, utterly unacceptable as the home team. Add to that the fact that United have failed to score in the first half of their last 11 home games and things could hardly be bleaker.
Van Gaal's excuse for his team's failings in attack has been the fact that sides intentionally set up to defend against them. The United manager talks about this as if it is surprising. For a club of United's calibre, the fact that the opponent is sitting back should not be an issue.
Van Gaal complained that Southampton fielded five at the back but had proceeded to do so himself. If the man knows that teams are 'parking the bus' against United then why does he continue to implement such cautious and defensive formations?
He continues to go with two holding midfielders, completely unnecessary if your opponent has no intention of attacking. Surely logic should dictate that if the opponent is going to sit back then you play more attackers?
TIME FOR A CHANGE
Louis van Gaal stated that he would leave the club if he ever thought he'd lost the support of his players, but on Saturday, he lost the fans. Naturally, the speculation will rumble on with many desperate to see the back of the Dutchman. Ed Woodward must surely be asking himself: is it time for a change?
If there is not an improvement soon United will miss out on the top four, which is sure to be a financial disaster. For Woodward, the time to act is now. The United chief executive may have hand-picked Van Gaal but he must put his pride aside and relieve him of his duties for the good of the club.
Van Gaal is not the man for United and he never has been. In his first season he was fortunate, but in this campaign he has been exposed. Supporters are the heart of a football club and the United fans made themselves clear on Saturday. The club has an outstanding candidate available in the shape of Jose Mourinho as well as Ryan Giggs - a man who bleeds Manchester United. Either of them would surely be more welcome than van Gaal.
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