Monday 11 December 2017

John Giles: If you're confused by Louis van Gaal, you're not alone

Van Gaal's players just don't seem to understand what he wants them to do

Van Gaal and Giggs
Van Gaal and Giggs
United on Monday night

IF Angel di Maria and many of his team-mates are as confused as I am about Louis van Gaal, Manchester United are in trouble.

On the evidence of his team's performance against Arsenal on Monday night, van Gaal has a very long way to go to develop a team which can challenge the likes of Chelsea and Manchester City in a meaningful way.

He really does confuse me. In his CV, I see many things which tell me this is a great manager. In his personality, I see many qualities which all the legends of management possessed but on the pitch, I don't see much evidence of the vision he is trying to implement.

I see a bunch of honest players trying their best to do what the manager wants but realising, like me, that it doesn't make any sense.

I'm sure Ryan Giggs' sensibilities are offended by what he is watching but I wouldn't pay too much attention to what he thinks. As has been said by many, he is the No. 2 and if he has advice to offer van Gaal, I would be surprised if the Dutchman pays him any heed.

He hitched his wagon to Wayne Rooney rather than Giggs and it is very clear that Manchester United's captain is getting on fine with his manager and why wouldn't he be? He's the main man at the club and van Gaal seems to acknowledge that before and after every match.

But if you asked me to nominate someone for the Player of the Season award, I would hand it to David de Gea now without any further fuss.

I don't know how many certain goals he has saved this season so far but without him, Manchester United would be in mid-table and van Gaal would be in the eye of a storm.

He spent £150m and I'm sure has big plans to spend another £150m. A Wembley appearance in his first season would have convinced the Glazers that their policy of non-interference with Alex Ferguson is worth continuing.

Now, van Gaal is in a scramble to finish third or fourth and Arsenal took firm control of that psychological battle by winning for the first time in eight years at Old Trafford and knocking their big rivals out of the FA Cup.

Next up for Manchester United is a dangerous Spurs team and it would be a major blow if van Gaal was to lose to Arsenal and another rival for Champions League qualification in quick succession, even if the Gunners' win was in the FA Cup.

I expect that the Glazers will hold their nerve but I reckon van Gaal must deliver Champions League football to be confident that they will fully support his rebuilding plans.

As it is, I don't think he is getting the best out his players no matter how many systems he claims he has tried so far this season.

If Manchester United are lucky, it's an issue of communication and time will work its magic but there is always the other possibility. Maybe what van Gaal is telling them is nonsense.

His opposite number on Monday evening, Arsene Wenger, makes sense most of the time.

I watched him pull another rabbit out of a hat at Old Trafford and it struck me forcibly how big a mug's game it is trying to see into the future where football is concerned.

After Arsenal's pretty poor performance against Monaco in the Champions League I think there was a general feeling in the air that Wenger's time had come.

A few weeks later and he's on his way to the FA Cup final again while van Gaal, the most confident man in management is visibly struggling to get to grips with the job in front of him.

Wenger has been reminiscing in the last few weeks, speaking fondly about good times in the past and I think that added to the notion that he was on a lap of honour.

He spoke about the financial constraints he worked under and how he was given the job to keep the club competitive while building the Emirates Stadium.

I believe he did that job too well for his employers but I agree completely with him when he says that the next man to manage Arsenal will find a very healthy club which has low debt and in an excellent position to face the future.

It was that reference which made me think that Wenger has reached a full stop in his own mind. If he was set on sticking with the task, he would be talking about buying new players and reaching for glory himself.

But I have to put in a provisional ball here.

I would be backing Arsenal to win the FA Cup now and if he delivered that, I'm absolutely convinced that the club and its supporters would be happy to leave him in the job.

The only question is whether he wants to go on himself and only he can provide the answer to that.

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