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So where are United at, really? That’s a question. It’s a question even the non-Manc Little People are asking, but for those of us with a greater or lesser umbilical link… it’s a full-on preoccupation.

O-kaaay we could take refuge in a gert big coned-off area that had TRANSITION limewashed into it in 4 foot high letters. Transition – clearly. But how does that feel? And is that transition forward?

I’m guessing most United fans – though understandably not all – buy into the idea that van Gaal is a genuinely elite level gaffer and that the brainy-brawny Dutchman will or could oversee a move towards inviolable and kosher Unitedness given time. (He knows what he’s doing, right? It’s just that the squad is deeply mixed – still – and some simply do not possess the mettle to wear the shirt.)

But I’m wondering if I’m alone in fearing that soon we may have bought our way into some thinnish and actually kinda disunited state of fitness for contention?
I’d rather we didn’t. I’d rather a team was shaped or bullied into something real and three-dimensional and identifiably of the previous, magbloodynificent era.

Not necessarily in terms of team shape – but certainly in terms of ethos.
There’s a challenge there, clearly, but so far either van Gaal has found it beyond him to motivate the existing group towards that nourishing aspiration, or, too many of the players he inherited have just been too crap. And the newboys will take time.

I know things are more complicated than that. I’m just saying how comparatively graceless (I know, I’m sounding old, OLD, O-OLD, using adjectives like that) how comparatively unsatisfying it’s gonna feel if three mega-signings come in as the window slams and United slide into mercenary-galactico mode. With individuals – egos! – running round the park for us and still no team. Even though we finish third and look set for next year.

‘Course this view, with its daft puritanical pomp, sets identity above success. Bit woolly maybe. Bit idealistic.

But the more I think on that the more I’m feeling okay. A team grown rather than a team bought has a richer feel and would surely lend itself to truer, deeper, more authentic support? We’d love the buggers more if their veins coursed redder.

Nah. Yeh but nah. Plenty of fans would buy the theory in that but fall in – be seduced in – to bawling with equally authentic fervour if Falcao (say) scored a hat-trick. Meaning maybe it don’t matter who dons the shirt it’s just nicer if they get it – the United thing.(There are, of course, myriad impenetrable tomes of an excruciatingly psychoIogical bent waiting to be written about the relationship between our Colombian brother and the club, the manager and his own confidence. Fortunately for you – despite my fascination with Jung and headbands – I aim to make some slimmer observations).

Radamel is fluttering (or spluttering?) between brilliance and acceptance, idolatry and failure; rejection. In this way, he may be said to be symbolic. But does he represent the flaccid and the faux, or the pine-fresh and the vitally, horn-tastically new?

Bottom line? Who knows? The evidence has put the counsellors on the couch. One minute I’m writing that he is fabulous and pure, uncluttered and keen, the next (bugger me) he’s in a coiffured strop.

Look a few weeks ago, when there was a more identifiable whiff of a charge – if a slightly accidental, flopping-over-the-line-like-Colin-Jackson kindofa charge – I drooled, or at least applauded with some gusto after the gloved South American buzzed and flit about the park like a Stuart Pearson on speed. He was committed; he was big-hearted; it meant something. Yet it didn’t quite work out.

He played with fabulous energy, the kind of relentless energy that made United under Ferguson, but (either because that intensity and willingness and presence wasn’t replicated around the pitch or because his confidence is that crucial notch down) it didn’t quite happen. So he’s left hanging; unresolved. Like the forty-six metaphors in the last two paragraphs.

But you know what I mean? Falcao is like United – is United. Very nearly completely gorgeous; quite nearly obviously thoroughbred; theoretically the finished article… but not. Sometimes so willing and so (yes!) hearty it’s poignant but sometimes just not in the obvious place for a striker. As though all the muscle memories but one are operational. And the one that’s missing is the one that would take him to meet the moment that matters, where he notches, crisply and instinctively – automatically. And yet…

And yet I wonder if he was ever a van Gaal player. I wonder how many of the current squad are van Gaal players? Though he has shed a shedload, does it not feel like a disparate bunch? If we try to picture what a ‘natural’ van Gaal side might look like, how many fit in?

Let’s roll back the dodgy hypothesis in favour of yaknow, concrete factoids. I’m honestly hoping this Dutch bloke gets United to play like a great Dutch side.

Magisterially, in possession, with inevitable but purposeful sweeps and switches and utter, utter control… plus some bite. Some raw pace and anger and the physicality that the Prem demands. That’s where I want to be.

I like the ambition of the back three thing. It’s scary as hell at times but it opens out the game and when/if the five players showing in front accept the ball and move and thread things it’s cultured and watchable and effective. It is, however, hugely contingent upon composure, meaning it requires quality players – top quality players.

So far this season too many in the United shirt have patently been unable to carry the expectation and the responsibility of finding and holding that critical ease. That’s an ease that in ideal circumstances players would (and should) naturally create or simply slot into. To use an appallingly overused word it’s an environment where actually and really great players find space to express their superiority. They receive the ball beautifully and they use it with skill and confidence. Is that where United are at, just now?

No. And there must be some criticism of van Gaal here. Sure the players are playing sporadically, only occasionally getting into their groove and we could rightly argue that for eight zillion quid a minute they should bloody well be able to drop right in there. But in the absence of what we might call simply player confidence it’s surely the first responsibility of the gaffer to create that milieu, that pattern, that understanding in which things are expressed. The essential task is to find a way to blend, bully, inspire or something and get the thing to gel. Currently, it feels like a combination of things obstruct; either the players or some players haven’t bought in to the theory or they simply can’t reach the necessary standards to execute.

I reckon enough fans suspect there is enough of the latter in this to cut the manager some slack – for now. But with or without further signings, van Gaal must lead his side towards conviction. Medium pronto.


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