Emperor Van Gaal’s New Clothes

[su_quote cite=”- Hans Christian Andersen, 1837 “]So off went the Emperor in procession under his splendid canopy. Everyone in the streets and the windows said, “Oh, how fine are the Emperor’s new clothes! Don’t they fit him to perfection? And see his long train!” Nobody would confess that he couldn’t see anything, for that would prove him either unfit for his position, or a fool. No costume the Emperor had worn before was ever such a complete success. “But he hasn’t got anything on,” a little child said.[/su_quote]

As another restless pre-season draws to a close, with the transfer window not far behind it, the seasonal accompaniment that’s become a feature of every post-Ronaldo summer is coming to a crescendo. You know the tune by now; “Money to spend”, “The manager can make a world record signing if he wants to”, “We can compete in the market”, “We’re still a massive draw”. Sponsorship deals are redoubled, the Glazer family draw money out of the club, and the faithful wait for heavyweight renewal that never comes.

While United have sensibly added a left back and a midfielder to the tired ranks, the squad is in a weaker position today than last season. It’s startling that a club in need of not only steel but savvy — United are reeling from losing their four most experienced players in one go, in the shape of Ryan Giggs, Rio Ferdinand, Nemanja Vidic and Patrice Evra — has been so slow to rebuild, so complacent. Same old hymn, same old summer.

In Louis van Gaal, United at least have a manager capable of rejuvenating both morale and talent. But while in vogue, Van Gaal is no magician — discipline, inventive systems and a shiny new formation can only take you so far. Giving players a chance to prove themselves is admirable, and dipping into the academy is to be applauded. But youth and vigour are nothing without a few wise heads, and a couple of proven talents.

The same old names still hang in the Old Trafford air in yet another last whiff of expectation, or desperation. There’s no big renewal. Anderson, Nani, Tom Cleverley are in a seemingly endless last chance saloon. Shinji Kagawa and Javier Hernandez have done little to suggest they’ll ever cement a place in the side. Jonny Evans looks lost without an experienced centre back holding his hand; Phil Jones and Chris Smalling still haven’t learnt. And Darren Fletcher, loyal and diligent, but whose best years were stolen from him by illness, cannot anchor the midfield all year. Sound familiar? It is.

As it stands, United don’t have enough to immediately regain a top four spot. Even if Arturo Vidal signs to become the United engine room it won’t be enough to see Champions League football, let alone the title, back at Old Trafford. Van Gaal, the man who turned Dirk Kuyt, the limited footballer’s limited footballer, into a World Cup semi-finalist wing-back, will wring every last drop from the squad. But he can only do so much. The squad has no solid base, a lack of leadership, barely has a midfield, and very little depth. The squad needs this long-heralded investment fast, before the team is stripped bare and exposed for what it is. Again.

[su_quote]Did you ever hear such innocent prattle?” said its father. And one person whispered to another what the child had said, “He hasn’t anything on. A child says he hasn’t anything on.” “But he hasn’t got anything on!” the whole town cried out at last. “Look!”, they shrilled. “Tom Cleverley is still sitting in midfield.”[/su_quote]

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