Last weekend’s bore draw at Anfield may not have been the desecration of football that some pundits were quick to label it, but there’s no denying it was one of the least inspiring trips to that derelict part of Merseyside many United fans have had to endure.
The goalless one of and half hours of dross that gave Jurgen Klopp the perfect excuse to blame everyone but himself for yet another poor league showing by his underachieving side had many of the United faithful, looking over to the Dutchman who was there doing some television work and putting aside the many weeks of garbage we saw on his watch and actually feeling a tad nostalgic.
Louis van Gaal’s United were anything but rampant entertainers, with 4-0 wins about as common as a Phil Jones scissor kick, but there’s is a small part of some of us who may be willing to give the former Old Trafford supremo a modicum of credit for the one or two things he did get right, some of which we’re still benefiting from to this day.
There’s no doubt that if it wasn’t for van Gaal’s willingness to give youth a chance, Marcus Rashford would have had a much longer wait for his United first team chance and subsequent inclusion. The cream always rises and there’s little doubt a player of Rashford’s undoubted ability would have eventually been given his opportunity, but right now he could be gracing one of our lower Premier League rivals on loan, or he may have had to at least take that route before coming back to wear the Red of United. Not so with van Gaal, who was willing to give an untried 18 year-old a chance not just in Europe, but in crucial league games against the likes of Arsenal and Manchester City, games I hastened to add, United won, the away win at the Etihad another reminder of van Gaal’s other real talent.
Beating your main rivals is so much more satisfying than picking apart a hapless side with a soon to be sacked manager in charge. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not criticising United’s new found vigour when it comes to destroying teams, it’s a welcome return to the Sir Alex Ferguson era, but nothing gets the juices flowing quite like a victory over Liverpool or Manchester City, seeing your rivals implode on and off the pitch is one of the joys of football and watching Juan Mata’s wonder strike and Stevie Mee trudge off the Anfied turf after 38 seconds of ineptitude was a lot more satisfying than destroying Swansea or Leicester.
Louis van Gaal may have delivered God-awful football for much of his tenure- I genuinely considered taking a good book with me to Old Trafford during those dark days, or even come cyanide – but in the games you care about most, more often than not he got it right, 3 wins from 4 in trips to Anfield and the Etihad while 3 wins out of 4 in the home ties against City and Liverpool – with at least two of those wins falling into the emphatic category- isn’t too shabby when you compare it to United’s more recent records.
Mourinho’s pragmatism may be the key to United lifting the title and I’d much rather have a manager who serves up regular wins peppered with the odd disappointing tedious performance rather than the other way round, but there’s a part of me that does miss seeing that almost unheard of youngster’s name on the team sheet, or watching the third goal fly in against the Scousers.
Van Gaal was far, far from perfect, his press conferences were an exercise in child psychology, his use of players out of position was idiotic, while some of his tactics were often an exercise in narcolepsy but he did give us an FA Cup win, the emergence of Rashford, Tim Fosu-Mensah and the signing of Anthony Martial, not to mention big wins over our biggest rivals.
One day, maybe not while many of us can still clearly remember the defeats to Swansea and Norwich, but perhaps when TFM continues to be ignored or loaned out or while we watch another 0-0 against a p*ss poor Liverpool side, we may just look back on the van Gaal era as one that at the very least gave us something to be proud of now and again.