Manchester United manager Louis Van Gaal has had his fair share of critics this season. Pundits, former players, the club’s very own supporters and especially the media have all slated the Dutchman since day one. The tedious possession-based football United have played under the 64-year-old has led to widespread reports that Jose Mourinho is ready to take charge of the team in the summer. I am not going to hide the fact that I have heavily criticised Van Gaal too, however there is a side to the current United boss that he needs to be given credit for.
In 1992 six young footballers broke into Manchester United’s first team. David Beckham, Nicky Butt, Ryan Giggs, Gary Neville, Phil Neville and Paul Scholes all made their debuts for the club under Sir Alex Ferguson. At a time when the team was looking for a moment of inspiration after Leeds had pipped them to the title, they certainly found it. The club’s academy produced the goods, and the rest is history.
Manchester United’s current campaign has been an inconsistent and heavily frustrating one. One week the team plays with the freedom and fluidity you would expect from a United side, and the next they go back to the slow, dreary and mind-numbing possession game the fans have witnessed far too often during Van Gaal’s reign.
If there is one element of the Dutchman’s managerial style I like, it’s the way in which he trusts his youngsters to make the step up into first team football. Every club he has been at during his long and successful career he has discovered wonderful talent through his club’s academy. Van Gaal led Ajax’s illustrious “Golden Generation” during his time in charge between 1991 and 1997, handing debuts to the likes of Patrick Kluivert, Marc Overmars and Clarence Seedorf. Spanish magician Xavi made his first start for Barcelona under the now 64-year-old, and Thomas Muller was elevated to the first team from the youth set-up at Bayern Munich when the Dutchman took charge in 2009.
Now, it’s United’s turn. Van Gaal has given debuts to Jesse Lingard, Cameron Borthwick-Jackson, Joe Riley, Andreas Pereira, Donald Love and most recently man of the moment Marcus Rashford. Tyler Blackett, Paddy McNair, Guillermo Varela, James Weir, Regan Poole and Timothy Fosu-Mensah have also made the step up from the club’s under 21 and under 18 sides. Big money signings Luke Shaw and Anthony Martial, both 20, already had a good reputation before being signed by Van Gaal but it was still a risk to throw them straight into the starting eleven. Although his hand has been forced in recent weeks because of injuries to several of his key players, the Dutchman’s track record suggests that he would have been quite content to give these kids a chance no matter what.
The future looks bright for Manchester United. It would take a very brave man to suggest that this group of youngsters could challenge the success created by the class of ’92, but the way they have started their careers at Old Trafford, I certainly wouldn’t bet against it.