Former Manchester United manager Tommy Docherty believes that it doesn’t matter what formation new boss Louis van Gaal uses, as long as he maintains the attacking philosophy of the club.
Docherty was responsible for creating the modern day United set up which most supporters are familiar with, and which was used with such success by Sir Alex Ferguson, when he began to use orthodox wingers in the 1974/75 season, and despite many variants over the last few years including occasional attempts to play a 4-2-3-1, van Gaal’s arrival has signalled the first significant formation change since ‘the Doc’ was manager.
It’s an intriguing parallel in history; 6 years after a European Cup win, and after an unsuccessful attempt to follow a legendary manager, it has taken a bullish, confident and outspoken man to come in and stamp his authority, changing things beyond recognition. Docherty was responsible for overseeing a complete restart at the club after succeeding Frank O’Farrell; O’Farrell, like Wilf McGuinness before him, had tried and failed to replicate the success of Sir Matt Busby.
Docherty’s emphasis was on attacking football, and he believes that even though van Gaal’s use of a 3-4-3/3-5-2 system marks a profound change from what United supporters are used to, it isn’t the system that necessarily matters. “It’s all down to the coaching at the end of the day, I don’t think formations matter a great amount,” said Docherty. “It’s all down to the ability of the players. If you’ve got eleven outstanding attacking players you’ll obviously play an attacking formation. In my mind, if you get the ball, then you’re all attackers. And when you lose it, you’re all defenders. I went 4-2-4 when we got Gordon Hill and Steve Coppell on the wings but when we lost the ball they tucked into midfield. If the team are working for each other, that’s the most important thing.”
United could be said to have laboured in recent years thanks in part to a ponderous midfield and Docherty believes that fixing that area, as well as keeping the side young, will prove the key to determining just how successful van Gaal’s new method will be. “Our four midfield players in 1975 were all creative players, not defensive, and our intention was always to get the ball back as quickly as we possibly could. We had a young and vibrant and fit side, they could run forever – energy is as important as anything”, he said.
United won 7-0 in van Gaal’s first friendly game in charge against LA Galaxy, and play Italian side Roma on Saturday.