Even though Jose Mourinho has taken over as Manchester United manager, Dutchman Louis van Gaal’s legacy lives on through the likes of Marcus Rashford, Cameron Borthwick-Jackson and other young players he brought to the fore. However that may have been more due to luck rather than ingenuity on the part of the Iron Tulip.
Manchester United faced a severe injury crisis in the beginning of 2016, with as many as a dozen first team players out of action. This period saw Louis van Gaal hand debuts to a number of youngsters, as pundits lauded his faith in the youth as a continuation of the proud tradition of Man United.
The biggest symbol of the relative success of this policy was teenage English striker Marcus Rashford. The 18-year old Mancunian scored in important ties against FC Midtjylland, Arsenal and Manchester City to keep the Old Trafford faithful hopeful, even as the club looked in bad shape. He is now hailed as one of the finds of the Louis van Gaal era. However if the Iron Tulip had his way in the January transfer window then Rashford may never have been discovered at all.
Renowned journalist Duncan Castles recently revealed that Manchester United had made a £35 million bid for Watford striker Odion Ighalo in January. The Nigerian forward was at that point competing for the Golden Boot with 12 goals to his name. However Van Gaal was left frustrated as the Hornets rejected the bid.
— Duncan Castles (@DuncanCastles) July 10, 2016
If Watford had accepted Van Gaal and Manchester United’s offer, then Ighalo would have been third choice striker behind Wayne Rooney and Anthony Martial. Marcus Rashford was handed his debut in the second leg of the Red Devils’ Europa League tie against Midtjylland because Martial had been injured in the pre-game warm-up. Captain Wayne Rooney was also out with an injury, along with other stand-ins like Adnan Januzaj.
Granted he could have played another Academy product in Will Keane, but the revelation of the Ighalo bid suggests that the Dutchman had no intention of playing a striker from the U21 team in the first place.
Cameron Borthwick-Jackson and Guillermo Varela also lucked out
Another position that Van Gaal was forced to worry about was at full-back. The first choice left-back Luke Shaw suffered a broken leg in Manchester United’s Champions League group stage game against PSV in September. With Shaw being ruled out for the rest of the season, Van Gaal turned to Ashley Young. But soon there was a full blown crisis in both full-back positions as Young, Marcos Rojo, Matteo Darmian and Antonio Valencia were all out with injury at the same time for a long period.
This left the Iron Tulip no choice but to turn to the youth teams and he gave starts to the likes of Guillermo Varela, Cameron Borthwick-Jackson, Tim Fosu-Mensah and Donald Love. The first three impressed in their cameo appearances and were hailed as excellent discoveries by Louis van Gaal.
However the Dutchman was planning on some January transfer activity to strengthen that position as well. It was revealed after the transfer window closed that Arsene Wenger had blocked a move to Old Trafford for Arsenal full-back Mathieu Debuchy. Manchester United had approached the player on transfer dead-line day, but he was instead loaned to Ligue 1 side Bordeaux.
Louis van Gaal reigned supreme in all transfer related activity during his time at Manchester United, and these failed attempts seem to indicate that the Dutchman had no intention of promoting youth team players. While the popular perception has been that the Iron Tulip was carrying on his legacy of promoting youth, like he did in his previous stints at Barcelona and Bayern Munich, this does not seem to be the case at Manchester United. Rashford an Co. will surely have fond memories of the manager who gave them their debut, but for Van Gaal it was more a lucky draw than a calculated gamble.