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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

Tottenham’s decision to rush back Harry Kane cost them in the FA Cup

The England international has only recently come back from injury.

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Harry Kane
Photo: Getty Images

Harry Kane was a shadow of his former self against Manchester United in the FA Cup semi-final Saturday afternoon, contributing little as Tottenham Hotspur fell to a 2-1 defeat.

The English international struggled to influence the match and was clearly off the pace. It is glaringly clear that Mauricio Pochettino rushed Kane back from his ankle injury far too soon; a decision that may well have cost Spurs their best recent chance at silverware.

Back in March, the striker crumpled under an awkward challenge from Bournemouth‘s Asmir Begovic and left the match on crutches. Spurs fans held their breath in fear and were crushed when it was later revealed Kane had suffered ligament damage.

It was a blow that was widely expected to keep Kane on the sidelines for the next couple months, but remarkably the striker returned just three weeks later in a 3-1 away win against Chelsea.

However, in the following run of matches leading up to the season-defining encounter against Manchester United, Kane had largely looked unfit and missing his classic verve and intensity that has come to define his game.

(Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)

This lethargy was notably on show in the midweek fixture against Brighton. Although the 24-year-old scored a goal, he appeared tired and unwilling to make his characteristic attacking runs behind the defence.

On the biggest stage of them all, Tottenham’s star striker was well off his prolific best. It was a shame that Kane could not rise to the Wembley occasion and send Spurs to the FA Cup final.

However, it is through no fault of the Englishman, as the blame must be placed on the over-eager Tottenham backroom staff. There was no need to rush Kane back for the league matches before the massive semifinal, and the striker should have been saved for the United match.

As a result of Pochettino’s poor decision, Spurs are trophy-less and Kane is damaged – a tragic turn of events for the north London club.

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Manchester United

Has Romelu Lukaku enjoyed a successful debut season at Manchester United?

The Belgian international has 27 goals in all competitions this season.

Martyn Cooke

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Romelu Lukaku
Photo: Getty Images

Expectations at Old Trafford have always been high.

Over the previous three decades, Manchester United have become one of the most successful club teams in Europe with Sir Alex Ferguson creating an era of dominance that brought success and trophies on a previously unprecedented scale.

His successors may not have been able to directly replicate his achievements, both David Moyes and Louis Van Gaal won just won FA Cup between them, but the raised bar that he set remains in place.

Expectations of individual players are also high, especially if you happen to be a striker.

Wayne Rooney, Ruud Van Nistelrooy, Robin Van Persie, Eric Cantona, Andy Cole and Teddy Sheringham are just a small selection of prestigious names that have shouldered the goal scoring responsibility at Old Trafford.

So, it would be fair to say that Romelu Lukaku has some rather large historical boots to fill.

The Belgian striker arrived at Old Trafford in the summer for an initial fee of £75 million after prolific spells with Everton and West Bromwich Albion.

He was brought in by Jose Mourinho to be the focal point of the Manchester United attack and to placate some of the goal scoring issues that the Portuguese coach had experience in his debut season with the club.

(Photo credit should read PAUL ELLIS/AFP/Getty Images)

A big-name striker, following in the footsteps of club legends, at a club that demands success – expectations were certainly high.

So, how do we rate Lukaku’s first season with Manchester United?

On Wednesday evening the Belgian climbed off the bench at the Vitality Stadium to score the goal that secured three points against Bournemouth. It was the 24-year-old’s 16th Premier League strike of the season and the 27th goal that he has netted in all competitions so far this campaign.

In basic terms, this season has been the most successful and prolific in front of goal in Lukaku’s career.

Mourinho has been using the Belgian as a lone striker and the focal point of Manchester United’s attack in a campaign in which the club has struggled to maintain pace with their cross-city rivals.

Lukaku has demonstrated that he possesses the pace, power and strength to become one of the leading strikers in world football and when he is fit, confident and on form the 24-year-old is as good as anyone else in the business.

However, despite his considerable goal return Lukaku has not been without his critics in his debut season at Old Trafford.

It has been suggested that the Belgian is a fast-track bully, a big-name that only scores against the so-called ‘smaller’ clubs and fails to produce when it really matters.

Critics point to the limited impact that he has had in matches against Manchester United’s direct rivals – he has scored only once against a top six-team this season.

Some supporters have also become increasingly frustrated that Mourinho’s reliance on Lukaku has seen game time restricted for players such as Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial.

(Photo credit should read BEN STANSALL/AFP/Getty Images)

The duo started the game against Bournemouth in mid-week and flourished in the Belgian’s absence, offering a more mobile, pacey form of attack that has often been missing this season.

Finally, it is noticeable that Lukaku has been lagging behind somewhat in the Premier League goal scoring charts this campaign. He is currently the sixth leading scorer in the league and has found the back of the net 14 times fewer than Mohamed Salah and 10 times less than Harry Kane.

However, when analysing the 24-year-old’s performances this season it is also worth remembering the pragmatic style of play that Mourinho has utilised.

The Portuguese coach is renowned for his defensive approach against other top-six teams whilst even against so-called ‘lesser’ clubs Manchester United have struggled to produce an aesthetically pleasing style of play.

The fact that Lukaku is on track to score 30 goals this season given the general approach of his manager should be applauded, not derided.

The Belgian has undoubtedly been a success in his debut season at Old Trafford but there is certainly room for improvement next year. However, Lukaku is still only 24 and he still has an abundance of time to grow, improve and develop his game whilst the peak years of his career are still ahead of him.

Manchester United supporters will be hoping that his significant goal return this season is just the start and that Lukaku will be able to build on the relative success of his debut campaign and push his game onto the next level next year.

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FA Cup

Three musts for Tottenham to achieve victory in their FA Cup semi-final

FA Cup success will be key to Tottenham’s season.

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Photo: Getty Images

Tottenham Hotspur face off against Manchester United in a high-profile FA Cup semifinal on Saturday, undoubtedly marking their biggest match of the season.

Here are three things Spurs must do to secure their place in the May 19 final.

Get Eriksen involved

Christian Eriksen has perhaps been Spurs’ standout player this season, delivering consistently superb performances and chipping in with crucial goals.

In order for Spurs to gain the upper hand against the Red Devils, the Danish midfielder must control the game and be at the heart of every Spurs attack.

If Eriksen is at his unplayable best, he can combine effortlessly with the likes of Harry Kane and Dele Alli, and break down the United backline with ease.

Keep Lukaku quiet

Romelu Lukaku presents United’s most potent goalscoring threat, and with 27 goals to his name this season, is enjoying a career-best year.

Lukaku came off the bench against Bournemouth on Wednesday and slotted home an assured finish, marking his eighth goal in his last ten appearances for club and country.

The Belgian’s red-hot form will give Tottenham’s centre-backs cause for concern, but his Belgian international teammates will have to be more than up to the fight to nullify Lukaku.

Jan Vertonghen and Toby Alderweireld will know Lukaku’s strengths all too well and must be strong and resolute to deny the striker any whiff of goal.

(Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images)

Stop the feared United comeback

If Spurs end up taking the lead at Wembley, they must be vigilant of letting Manchester United back into the match.

The Red Devils have shown an incredible knack for getting back into matches; their 3-2 come-from-behind win at the Etihad is a prime example of that. United have also recently beat Crystal Palace after trailing 2-0, and clearly never consider themselves out of a match.

Tottenham must be mindful to not let their concentration slip when ahead, as Manchester United will surely make them pay.

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