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Four of Louis van Gaal’s worst signings at Manchester United

Martyn Cooke

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Manchester United

The immediate years following the retirement of Sir Alex Ferguson will be remembered with little enthusiasm or enjoyment by Manchester United supporters. David Moyes was selected as the Scotsman’s immediate replacement but failed to adapt to life at Old Trafford, lasting just nine months before being sacked.

However, the appointment of his successor, Louis van Gaal, was met with initial excitement by supporters. The Dutch manager was one of the most prestigious managerial figures in European football having achieved substantial success with a variety of clubs across Europe whilst his performance in charge of the Netherlands national team was widely applauded.

Despite his impressive CV, van Gaal’s rein at Old Trafford will be looked back on with a degree of disappointment. Although he ended his final campaign with an FA Cup triumph his United team never looked genuinely capable of mounting a challenge for the title and there was widespread apathy among supporters for the dull, unexciting style of play that he implemented.

The lack of success on the pitch was further exaggerated the club’s failure in the transfer marker with the Dutchman spending over £250 million on transfers during his three seasons.

Here The Boot Room looks at four of the worst signings made by Louis van Gaal during his spell at Manchester United.

Radamel Falcao

On transfer deadline day in the summer of 2014 Manchester United announced the signing of Columbian superstar Radamel Falcao on a season-long loan.

The then 28-year-old striker arrived with a prestigious reputation as being one of the most deadly forwards in Europe having scored 104 goals in 139 games in the previous five years with Porto, Atletico Madrid and Monaco. The prospect of Louis van Gaal partnering him with the likes of Robin Van Persie and Wayne Rooney at Old Trafford generated an abundance of interest among the supporters.

United were reported to have paid a £6 million ‘loan fee’ to secure Falcao’s services for the forthcoming season, with the option of a permanent deal worth £43.5 million at the end of the campaign, in addition to the striker’s £265,000-a-week wage packet. However, the club would see little return on their excessive expenditure on the Columbian.

Falcao struggled to make any impact at Old Trafford and looked ill-equipped to cope with the rigorous physical demands and intensity of Premier League football.

There were concerns raised over his fitness levels and the amount of time that he needed after games to recover whilst he was able to score just four goals in 29 appearances. Unsurprisingly, United opted not to purchase the striker at the end of the season and his huge weekly wage packet would have certainly dented the coffers at Old Trafford.

Bizarrely, Chelsea agreed a similar loan deal for Falcao the following season but the Columbian was equally as unsuccessful in West London. He has since returned to Monaco where he has showed signs of recapturing his former prolific form in front of goal.

Memphis Depay

After a frustrating debut season at Old Trafford Louis van Gaal spent the summer of 2015 attempting to remould his Manchester United team into a more prolific and effective unit.

The Dutchman had implemented a style of play that was defensively solid but lacked any real creativity in the final third of the pitch, leading him to spend £31 million on Memphis Depay.

The then 21-year-old signed a four year contract with The Red Devils and arrived with a reputation for being a pacey, direct and somewhat unpredictable winger that was equally capable of creating and scoring goals.

He had finished the previous season as the Eredivisie’s top scorer after he had found the back of the net 22 times for PSV Eindhoven as the club secured their first title for over half-a-decade. However, Depay would last only eighteen months at Old Trafford before being sold by Jose Mourinho at the end of the 2017 January transfer window.

The winger scored seven goals in 53 appearances, most of which came from the bench, and he played just eight times under Mourinho. United were able to recoup £21.7 million when they agreed to sell Depay to Lyon but the youngster never came close to fulfilling his potential at Old Trafford.

Morgan Schneiderlin

Manchester United paid Southampton £25 million for French midfielder Morgan Schneiderlin in the summer of 2015 as Louis van Gaal looked to add some steel to his midfield.

The central midfielder had joined the Saints in 2008 from Strasbourg for £1.2 million and helped the club to rise from League One into the Championship and before becoming an established Premier League side.

The then-25-year-old was recognised as being a solid, all-round central midfielder who possessed good vision and range of passing whilst also being mobile and strong in the tackle. However, he was never able to replicate his form at Southampton and struggled to make any significant impact at Old Trafford.

He was a regular figure in the team under van Gaal but played just 11 minutes of Premier League football following the arrival of Jose Mourinho as the Portuguese maestro oversaw heavy investment in the playing squad during the summer of 2016.

The French midfielder was unable to secure a spot ion Mourinho’s new look team and was subsequently sold to Everton in January 2017.

United were able to agree a deal with The Toffees that would see the Merseyside outfit pay a fee rising to £24 million for Schneiderlin, but his spell at Old Trafford was extremely underwhelming.

Angel di Maria

There was a genuine sense of excitement around Old Trafford in the summer of 2014 after the club announced the signing of Argentinian winger Angel di Maria.

Manchester United had agreed to pay Real Madrid a then British record fee of £59.7 million and Louis van Gaal was quick to describe his new signing as a genuine ‘world class’ talent. The winger was a Champions League winner that was blessed with an abundance of technical ability and creative talent that United fans hoped would transform their club into title contenders.

However, despite a bright start to his United career, with a goal and an assist in three of his first four games, he appeared to lose his way. Van Gaal seemed unable to decide what Di Maria’s best position was and the Argentinian was rotated between six different positions, including as a central midfielder and a striker.

He then suffered a pelvic injury in December 2014 that sidelined him for a prolonged period of time and there were reports that he had failed to settle in Manchester after an attempted break-in at his Cheshire home.

The following summer he failed to attend United’s pre-season training camp in America and was swiftly sold to Paris Saint Germain for a fee of £44.3 million.

Overall, the Argentinian’s short-lived stay at Old Trafford cost the club £1.8 million per game and £14.9 million per goal, while supporters were left wondering how Van Gaal had failed to maximise the Argentinian’s potential.

Martyn is currently a PTA and Research Assistant in the Department of Exercise Science at the Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU). In addition to his teaching role he is also undertaking a PhD in Sports History that is exploring the origins and development of football in Staffordshire. Prior to working at MMU, Martyn spent a decade operating in the sport and leisure industry in a variety of roles including as a Sports Development Officers, PE Teacher, Football Coach and Operation Manager.

Manchester United

How will Manchester United line up with Alexis Sanchez?

Rob Meech

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Photo: Reuters

The most highly-anticipated transfer of the January window has finally been confirmed. Alexis Sanchez is now officially a Manchester United player after joining from Arsenal in a swap deal with Henrikh Mkhitaryan. It is quite a coup for the Red Devils to have snatched the Chilean from the clutches of Manchester City, who had long been the frontrunners for his signature.

Sanchez scored 80 goals in 165 appearances for Arsenal and his arrival at Old Trafford significantly strengthens Jose Mourinho’s attacking resources. United are second in the Premier League, but lie a distant 12 points behind their Manchester rivals. So how might the Red Devils line up with Sanchez, who will wear the iconic number seven shirt?

What will have most attracted Mourinho to Sanchez is his ability to play in any number of attacking positions. Although his goalscoring ratio for both Barcelona and Arsenal is close to one in two, he would not be classed as an out-and-out striker.

Wenger did sometimes deploy the 29-year-old on his own up top, but more often than not the Gunners boss favoured him on the left of an attacking three, alongside the likes of Mesut Ozil and Olivier Giroud.

Mourinho is hardly short of forward options. He signed Romelu Lukaku from Everton last summer to spearhead the attack, while Marcus Rashford, Jesse Lingard, Anthony Martial and Paul Pogba have all shown to be more than capable of chipping in with goals.

Sanchez provides another dimension altogether, though. He is more physical than the aforementioned quartet and his tireless work-rate is exactly what Mourinho looks for.

Sanchez could rotate with Lukaku in the number nine role – or even play alongside hm in a front two – but it is more likely that he will occupy one of the three spots behind the Belgian.

When fit, British record signing Pogba is guaranteed to slot into a central role in front of a deep-lying central midfield pairing, which gives the Frenchman the freedom to express himself. That leaves one of the two wider positions, currently occupied by two of Rashford, Martial and Lingard.

Of late, Mourinho has opted for Martial and Lingard, both of whom have been in scintillating form with goals and assists aplenty. To leave out either would seem harsh, but given the high-profile nature of this signing, one will surely make way to accommodate Sanchez, whose inclusion may also help to get the best out of the unconvincing Lukaku.

If Mourinho’s vision is similar to Wenger’s, then the fall guy would appear to be Martial. However, the Portuguese may have other ideas and such is Sanchez’s versatility that the United manager knows he can select the Chile international anywhere in attack without diminishing his influence.

The increased competition for a starting berth can only benefit United and it certainly would not be a surprise to see Sanchez selected as a number nine, should Lukaku’s form continue to suffer.

With the Red Devils hoping to go deep into the latter stages of the Champions League as well as the FA Cup, the flexibility Sanchez offers will be invaluable in facilitating squad rotation. Games come thick and fast at this stage of the campaign and, consequently, player burn-out is a real possibility.

By landing Sanchez, United have issued a massive statement of intent. Despite an improved Premier League season, they will almost certainly have to watch on as City lift the title in May.

Whether the former Barcelona star is the man to shift the balance of power back towards the red half of Manchester remains to be seen. Nevertheless, he undoubtedly improves Mourinho’s squad and it will be fascinating to see how he fares in a United shirt.

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Burnley

Burnley 0-1 Manchester United: Three talking points from Turf Moor

Rob Meech

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Photo: Reuters

Anthony Martial scored the only goal of the game as Manchester United recorded their third consecutive victory by seeing off Burnley at Turf Moor. In a game devoid of end-to-end entertainment, the Frenchman struck in the 54th minute when his right-footed shot found the net via the underside of the crossbar.

Burnley tried in vain to force a leveller but could not find a way past David de Gea, as their winless run extended to seven Premier League matches. United, meanwhile, have maintained their grip on second spot but remain 12 points drift of runaway leaders Manchester City. Here are three talking points…

United pass another away-day test

Despite rumours of unrest at Old Trafford, United are now unbeaten in eight Premier League matches. While their hopes of reeling in Manchester City may be remote, Jose Mourinho’s men are red-hot favourites to finish as runners-up. That would be a huge improvement on last season – their first under Mourinho – where United finished sixth. It was only their success in the Europa League that guaranteed them a place in the Champions League.

The Red Devils are definitely progressing and the expected arrival of Alexis Sanchez would give them another dimension. In particular, their away form will please Mourinho. This was United’s fifth victory in their past six Premier League games on their travels, a run that is helping to keep the likes of Chelsea and Liverpool at bay.

Burnley is a notoriously tricky place to visit, but United withstood the physical threat of the hosts and just about had enough to claim all three points.

Burnley are feeling the effects

When looking at the table, Burnley’s position appears to be very comfortable. In eighth place and with 34 points to their name, the Clarets are all but guaranteed to be playing Premier League football again next season. That would have been manager Sean Dyche’s priority and he can feel satisfied with the job he has done.

Nonetheless, this is a difficult period for Burnley, who have not tasted victory since they beat Stoke City on December 12. Scoring goals has been their biggest problem, having drawn a blank in four of their seven-game winless  run. The Clarets are not renowned as being free-scoring – they have found the net only 19 times this season – and rely on a solid defensive foundation.

Perhaps the exertions of their promising start have taken their toll on a settled side. The challenge for Dyche, who had been linked with the Everton job during the height of Burnley’s success, is to ensure his players do not fall into the trap of thinking they have nothing to play for.

Martial is making rapid progress

The Frenchman began the campaign out of favour at United, but he has regained his place in the side thanks to a series of consistent performances. His output has been productive, too. His goal against Burnley was his third in a row, taking him to 11 for the season. Allied to his seven assists, Martial is beginning to fulfil his immense potential.

He cut a frustrated figure at being kept out of the starting XI by Marcus Rashford – there was even speculation he might be on his way out of Old Trafford. But Martial said all the right things publicly and is no longer in the ‘supersub’ category. Competition for places will only intensify if and when Sanchez’s switch from Arsenal is completed.

But the former Monaco starlet should not fear the Chilean’s arrival, but relish it. He has proved he can be a trustworthy player for United. Like Luke Shaw, he is another to have benefited from some stern words from Mourinho, who will soon have an embarrassment of attacking riches to call upon.

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Manchester United

Paul Pogba defies critics as his incredible Manchester United record marches on

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Photo: Reuters

There is no denying that Manchester United’s Paul Pogba is a footballing enigma.

There is nobody in the Premier League more talked about and, either for better or for worse, his name has plagued each and every leading sports publication since returning to Old Trafford last year.

His £89 million price tag has followed him around like a shadow ever since the then-world record fee was announced, with journalists and pundits alike using it as a means of leverage as soon as he puts one foot wrong.

Add this to the fact that he is a footballing purist’s worst nightmare and there is even more leverage to use.

His ever-changing hairstyles, his constant attempts at audacity on the football pitch and his inventive celebrations perhaps lend him more towards a younger breed of fan, rather than those that have presided in the Stretford End since the pre-Premier League era.

But say what you want, he doesn’t half know how to play football.

Monday night’s comfortable 3-0 victory over beleaguered Stoke City increased Pogba’s incredulous personal unbeaten run to 35 Premier League games – a record unmatched by anyone in the division.

Has this run come about through luck? Is it a coincidence? Or is it just his brilliance?

On balance you would have to say that it is the latter option.

His brace of assists against the Potters took his tally up to nine for the season from just 13 league outings, taking him level with Manchester City’s duo of golden boys Kevin de Bruyne and Leroy Sane.

To try and gather a sense of perspective on just how impressive a feat this is, there are six players across Europe’s top five leagues on nine assists at the time of writing (including Paris Saint-Germain’s Neymar) and the Frenchman has reached the mark the quickest – it makes for impressive reading among esteemed company.

His creativity can’t be disputed in the Manchester United midfield and, even though he missed ten league games through a combination of injuries and suspensions, he is still the third-most creative outlet in their side.

Over 13 appearances he has crafted 27 clear-cut opportunities, only narrowly behind Juan Mata’s precedent of 33, and you can bet your life he will have trumped him by the time January is done and dusted.

To reach the nine-assist mark in 967 minutes less than De Bruyne, who has unequivocally been the stand-out player in the league this season, is merely a marker of how good the 24-year-old really is.

However, naturally there are those that will still criticise his every move.

They may have a point – after all, at least four of Pogba’s assists this season have come virtue of individual brilliance from his teammates (Anthony Martial vs Swansea City/Stoke City, Antonio Valencia vs Stoke City and Jesse Lingard vs Everton) – and compared to the type of defence-splitting pass that a number of De Bruyne’s assists have come from there is a lot more skill and finesse on show from the Belgian.

Yet, what those nay-sayers fail to acknowledge is Pogba’s ability to find pockets of space between midfield and defensive lines to play those short passes into his teammates. And there’s little coincidence that his increased impact on matches and his upheaval in form has come since Nemanja Matic stepped through the door.

Jose Mourinho’s ability to lure him out of Stamford Bridge and over to Manchester has evidently given Pogba a new lease of life, and more importantly the sense of freedom to be a creative force that he so often was at Juventus.

When he was playing in Serie A he had the comfort of knowledge that Claudio Marchisio was marshalling the defence behind him, and this is something that United didn’t have in 2016-17.

Last season, part of Pogba’s struggle to impress was, in part, down to this constant need to help out in defence, and he was often playing in a deeper role than he would have liked. Yet this season Matic’s holding role offers the defence that protection, freeing the Frenchman to be more elaborate in attack.

To see just how instrumental he has become to this Manchester United side you only have to look back to his time spent side-lined by a hamstring knock, where they suffered their only three defeats of the season to date.

These – which came against Huddersfield Town, Chelsea and Manchester City – were games that were crying out for Pogba’s assertiveness in midfield, but that spark, which he has in abundance, was found missing.

Whilst both Juan Mata and Ander Herrera are good Premier League quality players in their own right neither possess the box-to-box drive, the physical power or the pace that Pogba himself does, and it showed as they failed to replicate the Frenchman’s energy and endeavour in defeat.

This season alone Pogba’s completed 33 of his 46 attempted dribbles, achieving a 72% success rate, and it is this ability to maraud into the opposition territory that United sorely missed in his absence.

There are those that will say that his return to the side saw United bow out of the Carabao Cup to Championship side Bristol City and then draw three successive Premier League fixtures.

And, once again, they have a point.

But when taking a step back and looking at the bigger picture there aren’t many players in the English game that can conjure up a piece of magic to turn a game around, nor consistently reach a high-level week-in, week-out, and Pogba’s one of them.

He makes everything look effortless on the football pitch – whether that be spraying a raking pass across the pitch to someone’s feet or muscling an opponent off the ball easily to turn over possession – and it is fair to say Manchester United would look a worse side without him.

Whilst this may sound like a glowing review, it has not always been good news, of course.

Pogba will be the first to admit that he struggled to reach his extremely high standards during 2016-17 – despite leading United to two pieces of silverware – and he will have felt the pressure of his price tag as the season went on.

And, while he has come out ready to impress this time around, there are still parts of his game that frustrate – not least his wastefulness in front of goal, often attempting to shoot from 30-yards out.

But that is just the player he is, and don’t expect it to change anytime soon.

At the end of the day, his demeanour both on and off the football field will always get him talked about, and the only thing he can do is continue to rack up the wins to keep his harshest critics at bay.

Whilst Manchester United’s early season hopes of a title challenge have been diminished due to Manchester City’s brilliance, Pogba’s enjoying a fine run of personal form that is catching the eye.

Should he stay fit there is no reason as to why Mourinho’s men cannot sustain a challenge for the Champions League and the FA Cup long into the year.

And you never know, should Pogba extend his unbeaten run to 60 Premier League matches come the end of the season then there may even be a chance of the unlikeliest title in top-flight history – although I wouldn’t book a day off work for the United trophy parade just yet.

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