Louis Van Gaal may have achieved the targets set by the Glazers & the Manchester United last summer but for a club used to so much success under Sir Alex Ferguson can a 4th placed finish be classified as success? .
Manchester United have been the most successful European club north of the English channel in the last two decades. This period has coincided with 13 Premier League titles, 2 European Cups and countless other cup successes. Leading the Red Devils to these heights was a Scotsman for whom future successes held much more importance than any present achievement.
But post the retirement of the Scotsman the Red Devils finished a lowly 7th under the stewardship of David Moyes. This finish not only ensured that Manchester United missed qualification for the Champions League but also cost Moyes his job. Thus for new manager Louis Van Gaal the benchmark was set a lot lower then what might have been the case if he had directly succeeded Ferguson. For Van Gaal the task was simple a ensure that Manchester United qualified for the blue riband European competition.
This was the competition on the basis of which multi million pound deals were signed with the likes of Adidas, DHL, Chevrolet, et al. And the Dutchman delivered as the Red Devils finished the season in 4th place. So if this is used as the sole parameter for a successful season then Van Gaal must receive an A on his performance score card for 2014-15.
But at uber clubs like Real Madrid, Barcelona, Bayern Munich & Manchester United just meeting expectations is not considered enough. Winning the league title and reaching the latter stages of the cup competitions is considered a bare minimum and winning a trophy is essential. So by this definition the Dutchman has had an unsuccessful season with the Old Trafford based club.
So how will this season be looked back upon in a few years time? Will it be deemed a success or a failure? All of this will be answered in the next couple of years on the basis of weather Van Gaala s men can use this season as a springboard for success.
But this should not take away the fact that Louis Van Gaal has ensured that the raw materials are in place for a sustained challenge domestically and a reasonable foray in Europe next season.
He has abandoned the 3-5-2, a philosophy and formation with which he has built his finest Ajax, Barcelona & Dutch sides. He understood early on that Manchester United do not have the quality of centre backs to play this formation. Maybe the 5-3 humbling against Leicester City did serve a purpose after all.
He has built a side which was at its best in early spring when playing through neat triangles on either side of midfield. On the left, one had the rough and direct approach of Ashley Young, Daley Blind/Luke Shaw & Marouane Fellaini, while on the right was the smooth & technical approach of Juan Mata, Antonio Valencia & Ander Herrera. This style of play made use of the flair of Mata & Herrera along with the physicality of Fellaini.
And all of this was based on the solidity & brilliance of Michael Carrick. It was simple really, when Carrick played United played well & generally won. When Carrick was injured United struggled & more often than not lost. The Geordie has probably been the most important player in Manchester Uniteda s squad since the departure of Cristiano Ronaldo to Real Madrid and it was very evident this season. Success or failure will heavily depend on whether Uniteda s medical staff can keep Carrick fit & the ability of Van Gaal to unearth another deep lying playmaker with the same skillset as the understated Englishman.
The area where the Red Devils struggled most was probably up front. Robin Van Persie had a stop start season and looked more like a player whoa s powers are on the wane. Perhaps Van Gaal realized this fact during pre-season that his fellow countryman would not be able to carry United on his back like he did during Sir Alexa s final season in charge & hence recruited Radamel Falcao.
The Colombian was the most feared striker in Europe when at Atletico Madrid but since his big money move to Monaco & subsequent knee injury he has failed to capture past glories. The same was the story in his first & only season in Manchester. Van Gaal never fully trusted Falcao and when he did the Colombian did little to repay his faith.
In the end it was left to Wayne Rooney to score the goals and to Van Gaala s immense relief he was ably assisted by reasonable contributions from midfield by the likes of Fellaini, Herrera, Mata & at times Blind too.
But the biggest source of optimism for Uniteda s faithful from this season should be that at their club merit will always
be given more importance than big name pedigree. This was seen when Young kept out Angel Di Maria for large parts of the season something which would have seemed inconceivable when United signed the Argentine for a club record fee last summer. It could also be seen when youngster James Wilson was sometimes preferred over Van Persie & Falcao.
If Van Gaal can continue making these tough calls & place emphasis on youth & current form then perhaps the glory days of the Ferguson era might yet return to Old Trafford. But for now the verdict will have to wait as the success of this season can only be judged on what happens in the next few years.
Player of the Season
David De Gea
The biggest reason why Manchester United are in the Champions League for next season is because they had a certain Spanish youngster in goal who guarded it with every single part of his body. He held Uniteda s porous defense together & it will be interesting to see how they replace him if his expected transfer to Real Madrid comes to fruition.
Goal of the Season
Juan Mata against Liverpool
This was probably the most impressive performance by United this season and probably the best & most important goal. The Spaniard wonderfully twisted his body & volleyed the ball home from 12 yards out. This goal ensured that Liverpool would need a miracle to overhaul United for the last Champions League spot, something which they ultimately failed in.