A Problem like Di Maria? Why van Gaal is not Blind to what makes Manchester United tick

by Tom Simmonds

The reams of column inches devoted to Louis van Gaal’s transfer policy since becoming Manchester United manager have largely centred around a view that van Gaal has taken a scattergun, cavalier approach. Dutch legend Johan Cruyff, whose relationship with van Gaal is famously frosty said recently, “The big problem is to manage all these players…How can you…bring all these egos together?”

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Much has been made of United’s defensive frailty in 14/15’s early knockings, illustrated by the ‘3-1 up 5-3 down’ capitulation to Leicester in September. Critics rounded on the decision to add the talents of Angel Di Maria and Radamel Falcao to an already well-stocked attacking cupboard when United were muddling on with a depleted defence shorn of the long-standing Ferdinand-Vidic axis and with the likes of (the currently injured) Phil Jones and Jonny Evans still a couple of years from full maturity.

On Sunday, an Everton side in indifferent form came to Old Trafford looking to exploit the growing pains of a defence that had played together once before, in the previous home game against West Ham, which included the 19-year-old Paddy McNair as well as the expensive Luke Shaw and Marcos Rojo. However, Everton’s defensive problem prior to this game was as acute as United’s, having shipped 14 goals in the previous six league games.

United’s first half performance saw them turn their attacking weapons up to 11 in a bid to win the game early. Had they had more than the goal resulting from Di Maria’s wonderful finish to insulate them at half time, the anxiety that crept into their game might have been less acute. Shaw’s ill-judged lunge to concede the penalty that David De Gea saved on the whistle set the tone for a nervy second period for the Reds. Falcao’s winner, scored on the break, and De Gea’s two magnificent injury time saves to deny Leon Osman and Bryan Oviedo, banked the points, but the ghosts of Leicester were clearly lingering.

This reprises the question of whether van Gaal has pursued the most appropriate acquisitions policy. The implication being that Di Maria and Falcao represent a huge fur coat that van Gaal hopes can mask threadbare undergarments. This is too simplistic a view for many reasons, not least because van Gaal has also spent £44 million on defenders this summer as well as a bargain £14 million on the imperious, silky Daley Blind to play at the midfield’s base. Also if a player of Di Maria’s rare talent becomes available, you sign them if you can. Arsenal fans currently lamenting Arsene Wenger’s decision pass on signing Cesc Fabregas will doubtless attest to that.

It’s also an interpretation that fundamentally misunderstands the soul of Manchester United. This is a football club where the fans are raised on the folklore and deeds of Duncan Edwards, George Best, Eric Cantona, Cristiano Ronaldo et al. These are fans who demand a bit of maverick and devilry – that maverick tradition is a large part of what United’s global appeal is based on. The Stretford Enders who surrounded me on Sunday sang almost as many songs about these past legends and Matt Busby’s ‘Babes’ as they did their current crop. Di Maria, current custodian of that hallowed number 7 shirt, is not out of place in that company.

United currently sit 4th after their stuttering start, which should augur well for them in a season where, frankly, getting back into the Champions League should be their only objective. In temporarily reduced circumstances, the presence of Di Maria is all the more essential for United fans, to see that they still have a flag-bearer for their tradition even in thinner times. Great student of the game and pragmatist that he is, it’s highly likely that van Gaal appreciated that prior to accepting the job.

United fans-are you worried by LvG not bolstering the defence further in the summer? Where do you think Di Maria will rank alongside your other great number 7s? Is Daley Blind the man to restore the authority to your central midfield?

Read more from Tom Simmonds here!

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