If the Manchester United players felt unable to respect David Moyes because he had no history of success, they have no excuses now. Louis van Gaal has won the league with every team he has ever managed. If those players felt that Moyes lacked the authority or the confidence to keep them under control, they’re in for quite the culture shock. Van Gaal is here to kick bottoms. In all likelihood, these are the first five bottoms on his list.
Van Gaal has always operated by the ‘first night in prison’ doctrine that compels a new convict to seek out the biggest man in the yard and punch him in the face in an effort to ward off lesser predators. In the past, Rivaldo and Franck Ribery have tried to argue with the Dutchman and they were both unceremoniously benched. Van Gaal isn’t intimidated by reputation. If Rooney whimpers about his contract, he’ll be dropped. If he whines about Robin van Persie hogging the central role, he’ll be dropped. If he complains either that the squad doesn’t have enough quality, or that the squad has so much quality that he doesn’t get to play regularly, he’ll be dropped. Either way, to paraphrase Rory Breaker, Rooney is going to have to work very hard just to stay in the team. And that’s the way it should be.
Van Gaal has no reason to have witnessed Cleverley’s excellent debut Premier League season with Wigan in 2010/11. He has no interest in Greg Dyke’s campaign to give promising young English players game time. He has no requirement for a TC23 branded website complete with arty portrait shots. Cleverley will only be relevant to Van Gaal if he can rediscover the form that, if it’s recalled by anyone, is recalled like the decaying fragments of a particularly confusing dream. A hurt and dejected Cleverley told The Mirror last season that people didn’t appreciate him and that he wasn’t the kind of player, “who’s going to beat three or four people and stick it in the top corner or go around tackling people.” In that case, Van Gaal will want to know exactly what Cleverley can do. And Cleverley had better have a very good answer prepared.
Poor Nani can’t even hope for a quick and merciful exit from Old Trafford because, according to reports, Van Gaal has already identified him as a potentially key player in his 4-3-3 set-up. If Nani is to hold down a place in this team, Van Gaal is going to ride him like a beachside donkey. There will be tears. The perpetual disappointment from Portugal will be 28 in November and this will be his eighth season at Old Trafford. Blessed with an array of technical tricks and whizzbangs, he no longer has any excuse to underwhelm. For at least 45 minutes of every game, Nani will have to run within slapping range of his new manager, but knowing how cruel Van Gaal can be, it wouldn’t be even slightly surprising if he had the wingers swap flanks at half-time so he could get at him for another 45 minutes.
If ever there was a man who could encapsulate the profound disappointment of David Moyes’ brief tenure, it is Fellaini. A wholly underwhelming recruitment at an eye-watering price, it’s hard to see precisely what he does these days. In a weaker team, he can be used as a second striker, a giant fluffy target for the direct ball. But that’s not how United are supposed to play. But what else can he do? In midfield, he offers all the protection of a scarecrow, with slightly less mobility. He doesn’t seem smart enough to play in the anchor role, nor confident enough to offer any kind of creativity elsewhere. Given Van Gaal’s lack of patience for wastrels, Fellaini’s best hope of survival is to pretend to be some kind of ornamental lamp.
When Young was at Aston Villa, he was an assist-machine. He made goals from set-pieces, he made goals from winding runs, he made goals by actually scoring them with his own feet. That’s why he cost the better part of £20m and that’s why it’s so hard to comprehend what he has become at Old Trafford. Nowadays, the only way he seems able to create a goal is by hurling himself legs akimbo into opposing players in the penalty area, like a Victorian urchin bouncing off the side of a horse-drawn carriage and then demanding compensation. Doubtless Van Gaal will politely and gently enquire as to the causes of this loss of spark with his famously sensitive and tender touch. Lucky old Ashley.
Bet on the Champions League final now.